'Nole Your Enemy: BYU's Offense

We started with South Florida (OffenseDefense), and now move to BYU's Offense.  Brigham Young plays in the Mountain West Conference.  They run a power spread attack.  What does that mean?  Basically, offensive coordinator Robert Anae uses the personnel he has to make his offense, and he just so happens to have a very big running back, a likely NFL tight end, and a talented fullback.  The 'Noles will face a shotgun offense featuring multiple non-wide receiver skill position players.  Their linemen look to have 28 inch splits (rough guess).  For reference, FSU's offensive linemen will use 18" splits this year and used 12 inch splits last year.  

Here is an article:   BYU Offense and Protection Scheme.  It is from Texas Tech, and their current offensive coordinator Anae authored a decent portion.  Of particular note is the way they handle twists and stunts by the defensive line.

Last year, the Cougar's offense looked like this:

Category Performance Nat'l Rank
Total Offense 6.3 Yards/Play 18th
Scoring Offense 34.2 PPG 20th
Passing Offense 310 Passing Yards/ Game 6th
Rushing Offense 134 Rushing Yards/ Game 72nd

That summary makes BYU's offense look really good.  But were they really that good, considering their competition level?  Actually, they were pretty good.  The advanced performance measures indicate that BYU was quite good on offense.  Here's a look:  

Category Nat'l Rank
Opponent Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 19th
S&P+ (opponent adjusted measure of success and explosiveness) 6th
Rushing S&P+ 23rd
Passing S&P+ 8th

So the traditional measures say 18th or 20, and the smart measures say 19th or 6th.  That's a very good offense.  Not Texas Tech, UF, USC, or Penn State good, but comparable to the likes of Florida State, Pittsburgh, and Oregon.  I use teams from different conferences to show the importance of adjusting for the quality of defenses faced.  

So we know how good BYU's offense was, but how good will they be in 2009?

Disclaimer:  BYU is a tough team to analyze.  They play a terrible schedule, so it's tough to find games in which they faced teams as good as the 'Noles.  They also constantly have guys leaving for and returning from Mormon (LDS) missions.  They also redshirt a ton of kids.  The missions plus the redshirting has the effect of making their players old- but in a good way.  Most of their starters are 22 or older.  FSU has one starter older than 22, for comparison.  Their guys have a physical maturity not seen elsewhere in college football (though Wake Forest has a slightly muted similar effect, since they redshirt every player).  BYU's guys have been in a college weight program for at least 4 years (and in some cases 6).  Compare that to the average sophomore for FSU who has had only 1 off-season in a college weight program.  Aside from the physical maturity, BYU's guys also have great mental maturity.  They make good decisions, show up on time, etc., because if they don't, BYU will boot them from the team due to the LDS honor code.  While their guys might not appear talented, they are good football players who show a lot of consistency.

 

A haiku:

Hulking Precision

Lacking in Explosion

Touchdown Anyway

 

Quarterback

Let's start at the QB position, where BYU has a star in Max Hall.  He's 6'1" and 200lbs.  He's the kind of kid who is a very good college quarterback, but who doesn't have much of a pro future due to his sort of average physical tools.  He is however, very accurate.  He was 1st team All-Mountain West in 2007 and 2nd team last season.  Here is what he did in 2008:

Situation
G Att Comp Pct. Yards Yards/Att TD Int Rating Att/G Yards/G
All Games 13 477 330 69% 3957 8.3 35 14 157 37 304
vs. Winning 5 201 129 64% 1550 7.7 8 10 132 40 310
vs. Non-Winning 8 276 201 73% 2407 8.7 27 4 175 35 301
in Wins 10 348 257 74% 3150 9.1 34 6 179 35 315
in Losses (TCU, Utah, Arizona) 3 129 73 57% 807 6.3 1 8 99 43 269
vs. Ranked (AP) 2 83 43 52% 479 5.8 0 7 83 42 240
vs. Unranked (AP) 11 394 287 73% 3478 8.8 35 7 173 36 316

 

Those are some very impressive overall numbers.  The TD-INT Ratio against ranked teams, and in BYU's 3 losses, however, is a huge red flag.  Such a red flag that I decided to look closer.  

Opponent Defensive Efficiency (Lower Number is Better) Nat'l Defensive Rank BYU Points Scored
TCU -0.437 8 7
Utah -0.33 14 24
Florida State -0.32 20 ???
New Mexico -0.163 38 21
Arizona -0.126 42 21
UCLA -0.091 52 59
Air Force -0.032 59 38
Wyoming 0.071 70 44
Colorado State 0.205 87 45
Utah State 0.222 89 34
Washington 0.379 111 28
San Diego State 0.451 114 41
UNLV 0.516 115 42

 

TCU and Utah were the only two teams who had a defense similar to FSU's quality, and BYU managed 7 and 24 points, respectively.  And BYU was a combined -9 in turnover margin in those two games.  I think there is a speed issue.  BYU simply cannot replicate FSU's speed in practice using their practice squad.  Hall was a combined 43-83 in those two games.  He did not throw a TD in either game.  

It would seem that we have a case of beating up on bad opponents- and BYU certainly had a lot of those in their cupcake schedule.  

Hall is not a tall quarterback and as a result, he has to rely on throwing lanes (the spaces between his linemen) to see and throw.  It's very important to get pressure on Hall because he is not especially mobile.  He apparently dedicated himself in the off-season to getting quicker and dropping some weight, but that's likely just off-season hype.  Hall is not a runner.  

He is smart and accurate, however, and if the 'Noles don't get pressure in his face, he will complete some passes and hurt them.   

Some say Hall cannot win the big games.  It's stupid to attribute wins and losses solely to a quarterback rather than his team.  BYU wins the games they are supposed to win and loses the games they are not supposed to win.  Observe:

  • BYU was favored in 10 games last year and won them all
  • BYU was an underdog in 3 games last year and lost all three.

Hall isn't blowing these big games and neither is BYU.  They are a team of few letdowns or surprises.  The only people who believe Hall blows games BYU should win are those BYU fans who have a skewed perception of BYU's true ability level. 

In any case, Hall is very good when not pressured and will pick apart any defense if he is allowed to hang in the pocket.  When he faces a good defense that pressures him, however, he goes downhill very quickly. 

 

Running Backs

BYU is more than set at the running back position.  While BYU doesn't run often, they do run very efficiently, and their passing offense, like most passing attacks, is made much better if they can get the run game going. 

Losses:  FB Fui Vakapuna.  Rushed 54 times for 263 yards and 3 touchdowns, while catching 10 balls for 69 yards and a touchdown.  He was a very good blocker- good enough to be drafted.

BYU has a lot coming back in the backfield, however, and this group is easily the best in the Mountain West.

At running back, Harvey Unga has had back to back 1,000 yard seasons, and last year went for 1132 on 240 carries (4.7).  He also caught 42 balls for 309 yards (7.4).  At 6'0" 240, he is a load and BYU will continue to pound him on the ground.  He's a good runner but he definitely had a sophomore slump in terms of explosiveness.  Whether he regains that form is in question, though he had a good spring.

Coming back from academic ineligibility last season is fullback Manase Tonga.  Tonga is 6'1" 240 and a load.  He will pound the ball occasionally, but also blocks very well and catches the ball out of the backfield.

All of BYU's backs do the little things very well.  They don't miss blitz pickup assignments.  They catch the ball out of the backfield.  They don't dance and they do get upfield quickly to gain yards. 

 

Receivers/ Tight Ends

Who's gone?   Austin Collie, who was far and away the Cougar's best weapon.  He left early for the NFL and was BYU's go-to guy.  Collie had an NCAA Best 106 catches for 1453 yards and 15 TD's!  The Cougars had the 2nd best 3rd down conversion rate in the nation last year, and Collie caught a bunch of those.

Also departed Michael Reed, who went 49-589-2.  He was the Cougar's #2 receiver (though not their 2nd best receiving option, as you'll see below.

So BYU has to replace an NFL wideout (which is pretty rare for BYU), and their #2 wideout. 

They'll start to do it with someone who was already excellent at catching the ball.  That's Tight End Dennis Pitta, 6'5" 250lbs. The Senior is a legit NFL Tight End Prospect, consistently listed in the top-5 draft eligible tight end prospects, nationally.  Pitta has both the athleticism and the production to back up his status.  Last year he had 83 catches for 1083 yards and 6 touchdowns.  He will be Hall's prime target this year, and all 'Nole fans know how much trouble the 'Noles have had covering the tight end (though they are often burned by afterthought tight ends, not necessarily high profile tight ends).  Some great tight ends have killed the 'Noles, however, like UVA's Heath Miller and many from Miami. 

Here's a hilarious fake press-release on FSU's struggles with the tight end position, written by Ricobert11:

TIGHT ENDS MAKING DIFFERENCE IN PRACTICES
August xx, 200x

Coach (fill-in-the-blank) reminded reporters today of his intention to see the TE more involved in FSU offensive playcalling. "[So-and-so player] really impresses us with his athleticism. Believe you me, we will find a way to get that boy the ball."

FSU has looked to get more offensive output from their TEs in light of recent years lack of productivity. "I really just want to help the team out," said returning starter Tight Enderson. "We're really gonna surprise some folks this year. Teams will have to account for all skill players, not just our wide outs."

While FSU has had trouble finding the open TE, other teams have not. Miami TE Dozen Matta-Who scorched FSU's secondary for 9 catches and 173 yards in last year's rivalry game. The year prior, TE Enni-wun In-pads made a show case out of the game with a 15 catch / 227 yard / 4 TD performance, soliciting the first-ever mid-college season NFL free agent contract from the Oakland Raiders. In-pads would later, famously, go on to be the first player to ever sue against his own NFL Draft eligibility status, and win.

FSU has no excuse not to cover this tight end.  He is BYU's biggest weapon by a long shot and should be identified on every play. He's been 1st Team All-Mountain West for 2 years running.  Like a lof of the guys on this team, he's also 24 years old due to the Mormon LDS Missions.

Luckily, the 'Noles have Dekoda Watson, who has the ability to limit Pitta.

Trying to fill the void left by Collie will be McKay Jacobson.  The 5' 11" 192lb Soph has good speed.  As a freshman in 2006 (remember, these kids go on missions.  He is 21 as a sophomore), he caught 28 balls for 547 yards and 3 TD's.  He battled a hamstring injury this off-season, but is now back and definitely 100%.  In fact, he was the first up the mountain to the Y during conditioning on Saturday and has looked very good in practice so far.  Consider him the #1 WR until further notice. 

At the "X" receiver position, BYU has O'Neill Chambers.  He's 6'2" 205, and one of their bigger targets at wideout.  He has excellent hands.  Some say he has big play potential. 

The 3rd wide receiver spot right now, the "H", is between Junior Luke Ashworth, Matt Marshall, and Stephen Covey.  There's a possibility that Stephen Kozlowski gets in there as well. 

All of BYU's wideouts run excellent routes.  Their offense features a lot of quick passing and it is built on precision.  BYU's wideouts are where they are supposed to be.  They are on the same page with Max Hall.  Oh, and all of them can catch.  It's absolutely paramount that FSU's corners play solid man coverage against the Cougars.  BYU will eat up zone because they have a very good quarterback and mature (25 yearolds) receivers who understand where the holes are in a zone.  They might not be the fastest, but they are good.  That said, I expect to see a lot less 4 wide this year.

The Cougars also have tight end Andrew George (6'5" 250'), who went for 23 catches, 219 yds, and 6 TDs.  He's 47 years old.  Kidding, but he is a Senior, and factoring in his LDS mission, 47 seemed like a reasonable number.  In any case, George would start for most teams and is an excellent 2nd tight end option.

This group is clearly worse than last year without Collie.  None of the wide receivers for BYU could get playing time for FSU, and I would expect FSU's corners to be very ready to play these guys man-to-man.

 

Offensive Line

Last year, the Cougars had an excellent offensive line.  They were big, strong, and very experienced.  Experience doesn't last forever, however, and now BYU must start anew. 

Gone are 4 multi-year starters.  Three of them were All-Conference as Seniors!  The 4th made 28 career starts!  In all, BYU loses 153 starts, an incredible number (probably the biggest loss in the nation). 

Losing 4 starters means that one guy returns, and he happens to be the Coug's best lineman.  Matt Reynolds is to BYU what Andrew Datko was to FSU- a Freshman All-America.  BYU threw the ball 500 times last year and Reynolds (who is 21, with his mission and a redshirt), allowed only 1 sack.  He's 6'6", 320, and a serious NFL prospect.  But there's a problem:  he broke his hand yesterday (08.12), and his status for the First month of the season is in serious question.  If Reynolds cannot go, BYU is in a world of hurt in their two most important national games- @ Oklahoma (in Dallas), and v. Florida State.  He's expected to be back in October at the latest.

Replacing Reynolds at Left Tackle would likely be Braden Hansen, a 6'6" 282lb well touted redshirt freshman who is (surprise) coming off a mission.  I don't have much info on him other than to say that he is not as good as the Freshman All-American Reynolds. 

Right Tackle will be manned by Junior Nick Alletto, who is considered a good pass protector at 6'6" 318.  The Junior busted up his knee this off-season, but looks to have held onto the job.  He's also at least 23 years old.    They think he is very good in pass protection.

At left guard is likely to be Jason Speredon, a Junior.  He's a junior who has played in 21 games but apparently started none.  Suffered from an ACL issue as a redshirt freshman.  He's 6'5" 305 and my notes (I keep a little notebook on our opponents) say that coach Bronco Mendenhall had some good things to say about him at some point.  He obviously lacks experience against decent competition, however, since he's only played in garbage time. 

At Right Guard, the Cougars have a promising one in Sophomore Terence Brown.  6'3" 351, he is athletic for his size, though obviously not athletic on an objective scale.  BYU says he is smart and should be a three year starter.  Like the others, he has little experience (1 start as a freshman, redshirted last year). 

At Center, BYU will go with R.J. Willing, a 6'5" 305lb Senior.  He started 9 games in 2004 (yes, 2004, so that makes him at least 23 years old, possibly more).  He played in 11 games in 2007 and 5 games last year (mostly garbage time, no starts). 

This line has a chance to be very good, but there are a lot of unknowns.  Lines typically take some time to gel, but how much of that need is negated by the physical and mental maturity of a bunch of grown men?

 

Attacking BYU

Everyone knows that FSU Defensive Coordinator has been clueless against teams who spread the formation and then run with their quarterback.  If you didn't know that, welcome to our site!  Here is a convenient table.  You may now throw up in your mouth:

Total Off. Rushing Passing
Opponent PPG Plays Yds Per Play No Net YPC TFL's Att Comp Yds TD Int Sacks Dropbacks/ Sacks QB Rating
Against Pro-Style 19 65 270 4.1 31 83 2.6 10 34 17 187 1.2 1.2 4.3 8.8 100
Against Teams utilizing the Mobile QB from a spread set
28 60 385 6.4 39 235 6.0 7 20 11 151 1.5 0.5 0.8 28 138

 

Here's the article with an explanation as to why this has happened.

But BYU presents an interesting case.  They spread their formation, true, but they use Pro-Style personnel!  Their best skill players are two full-back sized running backs, and a tight end.  I expect to see some three-wide sets against FSU, but not much in the way of four wide receivers.

Additionally, Hall is not a runner.  He does not fall into the latter category.  I am inclined to classify BYU's offense as more of a pro-style, as despite their spread alignment, they do not run their quarterback, and use big personnel.

In fact, as I discussed above, it makes sense to call BYU "Big Texas Tech", since that is where their offense came from.  BYU makes their living on precise throws and timing routes.  FSU will have to dare them to go deep, and the 'Noles need to win those battles.  The most important key to this game, however, will  be to win the battle in the middle.  FSU must make BYU one-dimensional.  Teams who turn BYU into a throw-only team typically dominate them, as it kills their play-action game.  Getting pressure on Hall, specifically up the middle in his face, forcing him to throw on the move, is also important- but it needs to be done without blitzing a bunch.  FSU's defense is made to play the pass.  It dominates the pass.  If FSU can have any success stopping BYU's run, the 'Nole's defense should be okay against the Cougar's passing attack.  That's not to say it will shut it down, but that's not the goal.

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