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BYU football’s offense is (GASP) basically an option offense

Whether you like it or not, BYU’s offense looks eerily similar to an option style of play.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Brigham Young Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

First off, I would like to congratulate all of you for actually reading this piece instead of looking at the headline and dismissing it as mindless click bait. This is not a joke and I have some very real thoughts on the subject. I don’t expect everyone to jump on board with my line of thinking and for those who fall into this category I appreciate you giving it a shot, as opposed to those who are writing some angry tweets this very second.

That being said, here is my HOT BYU OFFENSE TAKE.

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A very curious thing happened during BYU’s off-season. For the first time in over a decade Tom Holmoe was conducting a search to find the Cougar’s next head football coach. It was a very unfamiliar feeling for this fan base and many of us had mixed feelings about some of the candidates that were being interviewed.

There was a small list of candidates that were being considered and none were more polarizing than Navy head coach Ken Niumatulolo.

When it was announced that they Ken was going to be making the trip to Provo to be interviewed there was a... how exactly do I say this... people lost their gosh dang minds. It had nothing to do with the kind of person they would be getting with Niumatulolo but rather it had everything to do with what kind of offense he employed. The fans couldn’t wrap their head around the idea of BYU running the option. I would regularly see things like “IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE” and “LAVELL EDWARDS WOULDN’T STAND FOR THIS” or “IT’S IN OUR DNA TO THROW THE FOOTBALL. IT’S WHAT WE DO,” as if the forward pass was invented in Provo.

Again this wasn’t an indictment of Niumatulolo. He is a fantastic coach who has done more with less than just about any college football coach in the country. The part that I found most interesting was how a large portion of BYU fans collectively turned up their noses at the thought of the option offense as if it were some repugnant football drivel that only belonged at lesser programs.

Now here we sit nine weeks into the season and ironically enough, BYU’s offense essentially operates like an option offense. The style of play that so many Cougar faithful demonized is now on display at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Let me be VERY clear in saying that the offense that Ty Detmer has implemented is NOT LITERALLY AN OPTION OFFENSE. BYU does not line up in a flexbone formation and send running backs in big looping motions to initiate the triple option. The offensive line does not specialize in cut blocks and fullbacks don’t get multiple carries a game. What I am saying is that BYU’s offense acts and shares many of the same characteristics of an options offense in the way that we run and pass the football.

Let’s take a look at the evidence.

THE NEED TO STAY ON SCHEDULE

I first started thinking about BYU and option principles when I noticed how the offense would struggle whenever we had a loss of yards or an incomplete pass on first down. These negative plays earlier in the series of downs usually resulted in 3rd-and-long passing situations, which haven’t exactly been BYU’s forte this season. (As a reference, Taysom Hill’s completion percentage drops ten points when going from 3rd & 3-5 to 3rd & 6+.) In looking at BYU’s scoring drives on Saturday, they were successful when they avoided these third and long situations by focusing on getting 3-4 yard chunks on first and second down.

This philosophy is what coaches (specifically option coaches) refer to as “staying on schedule”. It basically means putting the offense in 3rd down and short situations which are much easier to convert for a team where running the football is their primary option. Every team in the country tries to stay on schedule, but since the BYU offense and most option offenses don’t specialize in big plays, this principle isn’t just a good practice. It’s a necessity.

SLOW AND STEADY

Since BYU relies on short, incremental gains to move the football, the pace of the offense resembles that of an option offense. The exact mode in which BYU and Navy move the football isn’t too similar (BYU will mix in more short passing routes) but the slow, 15+ plays drives are almost identical.

If you look at the games played by both Navy and BYU this last weekend, each team had a drive in the second half that featured 16 plays and at least nine minutes off the clock. NINE MINUTES. It’s an ungodly amount of time for an opposing defense to be on the field and more importantly it keeps the opposing offense on the bench. So while the lack of big play ability is definitely frustrating, it can be a nice form of defense if the offense can sustain their drives. Either way, there is no denying that BYU’s offensive pace mirrors that of an option offense.

RUNNING QUARTERBACK

There are two reasons why Taysom Hill is still taking snaps from under center and they have nothing to do with his ability to throw the football. First, Taysom is an experienced quarterback that knows how to read defenses in order to help setup the running game. This is a very nuanced aspect of quarterbacking, and he likely doesn’t get much credit for it, but his ability to read a defense and adjust the play call accordingly is an important aspect of the running game.

The second reason why Taysom is still playing is his powerful running and escapeability. The pure speed and quickness is no longer there for Hill but he still possesses brute strength that has helped stiff arm defenders with ease and fight for first downs. There is no question that Taysom is at his best when he is running the football.

Ask any option coach and they will tell you that these two skills (making reads to facilitate the offense and then making plays running the ball) are probably the two most important skills an option quarterback can have. The way that Taysom plays and how he moves the ball fits well with an option attack, and with him at the helm the offense will continue to perform as such.

LIMITED PASSING ATTACK

Usually in a triple option offense, the passing game is usually an afterthought that is used to catch teams off guard once the running game has lulled them to sleep. Now BYU is much more active in the passing game than most option teams like Georgia Tech, Air Force and Navy but if you look at the numbers, there are some similarities.

Nate Romine - AFA // Comp % = 41.7% // YPA = 11.17 // TD-INT = 10-4

Justin Thomas - GT // Comp % = 54.8% // YPA = 10.50 // TD-INT = 7-1

Will Worth - Navy // Comp % = 60% // YPA = 10.90 // TD-INT = 6-3

Taysom Hill - BYU // Comp % = 58.9% // YPA = 5.90 // TD-INT = 9-8

It’s not entirely fair to compare these other quarterbacks with Taysom because they pass with much less frequency and a pass play in an option offense almost feels like a trick play. We could also cite the fact that each of these teams has a softer schedule than BYU and the advantage of playing in a system that has been in place for a few years. Even after considering all of these points, it’s humbling to see a BYU quarterback have numbers that are in the same vicinity (or in some cases worse) than option quarterbacks.

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I should probably use this space here to express that this piece does not take away from the fact that Kalani Sitake was 100% the right man for the job and Ty Detmer is working hard with what he has been given. The offense will improve and start to discover more of an identity beyond my label of “option offense that’s not really an option offense but acts like one anyway.”

For now, let’s all point and laugh at the people who so passionately spewed vitriol on the triple option offense because they pretty much got what they didn’t want at all.