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Opponent Offense Preview: BYU Cougars

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Brigham Young has been uninspiring on offense this year despite a 3-1 record and big win at Wisconsin.

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Arizona
All-Name Team member Squally Canada celebrates TD verse Arizona.
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

In 2017, BYU was bad on offense. Like, 121st in S&P+ bad. For a team that was historically built on QBs and a strong pass game, they have not been dangerous in the air at all under Kalani Sitake. However, things have started to swing back the opposite way this year after bringing in first year OC Jeff Grimes. While BYU’s offense isn’t exactly lighting anyone up, they’re doing just enough and have a win at #6 Wisconsin to show for it.

The Basics

The offense we’ve seen from BYU this season is not what we might be used to, preferring the run to the pass. More “burly man ball” than the classic BYU vertical passing game. In short, they’re big but slow.

Look at the play below. In a way, it’s reminiscent of Auburn: pre-snap motion, combined with a power run game and pulling guards. In this play, they give it to the WR in motion and fake it to the running back, while two OL pull around to the offense’s right to keep the defense honest. This jet-sweep running back power option (or whatever it’s called) is their base play and will be featured often.

Now here’s the same concept, except this time the running back gets the ball, and follows two pulling linemen for 44 yards.

There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors to this offense, which stresses defenses’ eyes and their discipline. Many plays feature even more pre-snap movement of linemen, tight ends, and receivers.

Through the Air

Tanner Mangum starts at quarterback for the Cougars and is entering his fourth year as a starter. Through four games, his stats are not great: 57% completion, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs. He isn’t dangerous with his legs either, but has generally led the team to victory. The 5-10 Aleva Hifo is their most dangerous weapon, with 12 catches for 129 yards this season. He is also the primary option for the jet sweeps and already has 13 carries, second most on the team. In classic BYU fashion they feature a solid pass catching TE in Moroni Laulu-Pututau who has 120 yards and has been on the receiving end of one of Mangum’s passing TDs. Former freshman All-American Matt Bushman is another big TE, who caught a week one touchdown against Arizona.

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Overall this has been a struggling part of the offense, generating about 150 yards and less than a TD per game. Fans haven’t been pleased with the WRs, who are dropping passes and struggling with separation. This is hurting especially on third downs, where they are just 21/54 on the year. However, the offensive line has been playing great, only giving up three sacks all year. This is doubly impressive considering they are starting three freshmen on the OL, including converted defensive tackle Keanu Saleapaga.

On the Ground

BYU only ranks 91st in rush yards per game but does average a decent 4.3 YPC. They’re lead on the ground by Squally Canada and his 322 yards and 5 TDs. What’s impressive is he’s shown not only an ability to be the work horse—24 carries, 98 yards, and 3 TDs against Arizona—but he can also make teams pay with limited carries, like his 11 for 118 yards and 2 TDs against Wisconsin. Lopini Katoa only gets about one third of the carries, but averages a healthy 5.6 YPC. The strong offensive line play continues here as they don’t allow many runs to be stopped at, or before the line of scrimmage.

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Final Thoughts

Last week I talked about Arizona State establishing the pass early and often to soften up the Husky defense. They did precisely the opposite, which I suppose as Husky fans we’ll have to get used to. Our team is really good, and won’t easily be beaten by most teams without creative game plans that break normal playcalling tendencies. Teams usually need to do something different to beat the Huskies.

So what will see out of BYU this week? I can’t imagine they will pull an ASU, go completely opposite, and start chucking it around the stadium. They don’t have the QB, or enough weapons around him. However, they will probably take the same approach they took to beat Wisconsin: be ultra efficient running the ball, don’t turn it over, and play mistake-free. The motions, fly sweeps, and pre-snap “eye candy” will try to get defenders a step or two out of position where Squally Canada can hurt them.

Mangum and this offense haven’t been able to throw on anyone this year and they won’t start on Saturday against the best secondary they will face this season. He’ll have time to throw behind his OL and a suspect UW pass rush, but throwing into the teeth of this defense will end badly for the Cougars. It will be a physical challenge going up against this BYU run game, but the Dawgs have weathered both Auburn and Utah’s tough ground games, on the road no less. Playing at Husky Stadium, I can’t see BYU scoring more than 13.