Play Calling 101: Well-timed run plays required

BYU RB KJ Hall carries the ball at East Carolina (Karl B DeBlaker, AP Photo)

The BYU Cougars have been trailing by large margins in the second half in each of the last three games. Once the fourth quarter begins in these games, BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer's play calling has become as one dimensional as it gets. Even when trailing by large margins, well-timed run plays are required.

BYU has faced a deficit of 16-points or more in each game, so it is understandable that BYU would pass a lot. However, under these circumstances, well-timed run plays are still necessary. In each of these games, the Cougar comeback bids could have been more successful with just one more run play.

Boise State 
Detmer called zero run plays in the fourth quarter.

Down 24-7, BYU was getting close to midfield on its first drive of the quarter. The Cougars had 3rd and 3 at the BYU 46-yard line. BYU completed a short pass for two yards that set up 4th and 1. On fourth down, Tanner Mangum threw an incomplete pass. Ball turned over on downs.

The 3rd and 3 was the fifth play of the drive. The first four were all passes. It was clearly established BYU was still trying to win the game. Boise State was expecting pass. Either of the two downs, third or fourth, would have been a good time for a run play. BYU would have had a better chance at the first down, and keeping the drive alive, by running the ball.

Mississippi State
For the second game in a row, Detmer called only passes in the fourth quarter.

BYU was on the Mississippi State 27-yard line for the first play of the fourth quarter. The Cougars were trailing 28-10, and were facing 2nd and 8 after a two-yard pass completion on first down.

The Cougars were in four-down territory, and the fourth quarter was just beginning. A run, even for just two or three yards, would have kept the Bulldogs guessing, which helps keep pressure off of Mangum.

The actual result of second down was a sack. That set up 3rd and 12, and subsequently, 4th and 12. Mississippi State intercepted the ball on fourth down.

East Carolina
Detmer did call a run play in the fourth quarter against ECU. On 2nd and 1, he called a run play, and KJ Hall got five yards. That was a perfect situation to make such a call. BYU ended up scoring a touchdown on that drive.

What BYU really needed was a run play two drives earlier. Down 26-10 with approximately 10 minutes left, the Cougars were threatening to cut the deficit to single digits. First and Goal from the five-yard line, Mangum dropped back to pass for the ninth consecutive play. ECU got to him, and sacked Mangum for a four-yard loss. With 2nd and Goal from the nine, BYU could only reach the four-yard line.

A run on 1st and Goal would have done more than just slow down the pass rush. It would have prepared the ECU defense to get burned on third or fourth down with a call to fake the hand off to the running back, and then throw to a wide open Matt Bushman in the end zone.

A touchdown on that drive would have completely changed the game. A 26-17 game with nine minutes to play is still quite winnable. 

Hopefully, BYU doesn't find itself in the same situation this week, or the rest of the year. However, if the situation does arise, then Detmer needs to mix in one or two more run plays.

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