ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 28: Riley Nelson #13 of the BYU Cougars reacts after an incomplete pass during a game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Cowboys Stadium on October 28, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
A couple of months ago I saw someone online claiming that in the Armed Forces Bowl last year Tulsa provided the blueprint for stopping (or at least significantly slowing) the Riley-Nelson-led BYU offense. The basic argument was that if teams shut down Riley's scrambling he will make lots of bad throws and BYU's offense will flounder. I recently re-watched that bowl game and saw several reasons to reject this claim.
What Tulsa did right
Tulsa was committed to shadowing and harassing Nelson the entire game. The Golden Hurricane's defensive game plan seemed to be to stop the BYU run game at all costs, including the Nelson scrambling, and force Nelson to beat them entirely with his arm. It was a solid plan overall because Nelson threw three pretty ugly interceptions in the game (one of which was nullified by a defensive holding call). Of course BYU still scored three TD's and won the game so it wasn't a great plan, but it was solid.
Why Tulsa's strategy won't work again
There are several reasons why that Tulsa's strategy won't work again:
- BYU's running backs will be significantly better in the 2012 season. In the Armed Forces Bowl BYU's best RB, Alisa, was sidelined with an injury. This season Alisa will be healthy and the other RB's like Pritchard, Foote, Hine, Williams, and Lasike will be a speed and power upgrade for BYU. The 2012 RB stable will be hard to shut down.
- The 2011 offensive line was obese. The 2012 offensive line is (reportedly) not obese. I could hardly believe the huge fat guts on that 2011 offensive line. Thankfully that obesity problem is reportedly somewhat resolved this season. The 2012 O-line should have better speed and stamina which will help run blocking.
- BYU's tight ends should make a comeback in 2012. After a couple of bad years it seems likely that the tight end position is poised to have a breakout year in the BYU offense. Leading candidates to contribute are a bulked up Marcus Matthews and a healthy Austin Holt. But guys like Mahina and Wilson could contribute in big ways too.
- BYU is reportedly going to implement a fast paced no-huddle offense in 2012. Done right, the speedy no-huddle offense puts a huge amount of pressure on opposing defenses. It is hard to impose your will on an offense when you don't even have time to get set before the snap.
- Riley Nelson will be a senior who used an entire off season to improve and prepare. I expect Riley to make fewer mistakes, fewer crazy throws, and to have overall better poise and vision this season.