After the first game of the season many BYU fans were concerned that Taysom Hill had lost a step. He was productive on the ground but he wasn’t as explosive as Cougar fans had witnessed in years past.
Part of the reason why we didn’t get to see “the old” Taysom Hill is the blocking / play calling didn’t really give him an opportunity to bust our a long run. While these 30, 40, 50+ yard plays on the ground require a special kind of talent in the skill positions, they also require astute blocking and sometimes a little bit of luck (usually thanks to the other team).
On Saturday night in Salt Lake City, we got to see Taysom look like his old self again when he tip-toed down the sideline for a 39 yard touchdown run. While part of it was thanks to Hill and his speed, a lot of thanks should go to three key blocks that helped set up the long run.
Before getting into the details, let’s watch the clip in real time.
In this first shot we see that BYU is lined up in the shotgun formation with three wide receivers to the short side of the field and one up on the far side. Jamaal Williams is set up to the left of Taysom. On defense Utah counters with four down lineman and a stand-up linebacker shading BYU’s left tackle. They see BYU’s three receivers on the short side and line up three defensive backs over top of them, with a safety playing center field and another cornerback playing tight on Jonah Trinnaman on the far side. At first glance there is a lot of real estate to work with on that left side. Utah is giving a lot of respect to the strong side with three defensive backs lined up outside the right hash and the middle linebacker already shaded in that direction.
At the snap of the ball we see that BYU is going with the zone read, a great call on 2nd-and-4. Jamaal can either fight his way up the field for some tough yards or Taysom can pull the ball and sprint to the sideline to try and get the 1st down. It’s at this point we can identify the five key defensive players who will play significant roles in how this plays out. First off, Taysom will be reading the stand-up outside linebacker who is acting as a defensive end. If he takes a wide step to seal off the edge, Taysom will hand it off to Jamaal but if the end takes even the slightest step towards Jamaal, Taysom will pull the ball and take off. Taysom isn’t reading the other four defensive players highlighted because his boys will take care of them.
Just at the snap of the ball we’ll see Utah’s middle linebacker taking steps towards the line of scrimmage, moving slightly to his left. While he thinks that he’s fulfilling his responsibility, this linebacker is setting himself up to be a non-factor in this play.
In the following shot we see that Taysom has pulled the ball from Jamaal and has a clear advantage on the defensive end who was supposed to have outside contain. The DE is in trouble already even though Taysom hasn’t crossed his face (gone to his outside) but just look at his feet. The defensive end is lined straight up the field while Taysom is two steps into his dead sprint for the sideline. It doesn’t matter if that guy is the fastest player on Utah’s defense, he’s not going to catch Taysom in that position.
A very important part of this play is the block that Kenyan Norman throws on the Utah middle linebackers (circled in yellow on the right hash). We mentioned earlier that he had taken two steps towards the line of scrimmage and in Jamaal’s direction. The only problem is Jamaal doesn’t have the ball and Norman is now in a perfect position to get a piece of the linebacker and seal him off for just a half second to keep him out of the play. It’s a very small part of the play but it’s the difference between a 10 yard gain and a 39 yard touchdown. At the top of the screen we start to see Jonah set up his man for a nice seal block.
Staying on the far side of the field, we have a better view of this block that Norman gets on the middle linebacker. We also see that each of BYU’s receivers on the far side are aggressively getting after their blocks. In the wider yellow oval Colby Pearson is already engaged with the corner and Mitchell Juergens is hunting down that other defensive back. Neither of their guys are remotely close to chasing down Taysom but they’re still dedicated to finishing their blocks.
One of my very favorite blocks in the entire game (and probably for the rest of the season) comes from Moroni Laulu-Pututau. In the image below we see that he is just starting to engage with the Utah defensive back around the right hash. He’s not it great position considering the play is move towards the left side of the field but Moroni doesn’t give and he is rewarded with a little help from a friend.
So who is the friend who helps Moroni out with this block? Well that would be the referee! Pututau uses the defensive back’s momentum and throws him right into the referee who is conveniently standing in the middle of the field. Theses still frames don’t do it justice so be sure to look for this when watching the clip. This DB wasn’t in a great position to make a play on Taysom but, again, this is the difference between a nice play and a big play.
Now that we’ve covered all the fantastic blocks on the near side of the field, let’s go back to Taysom who is just about to blow by the defensive end and make a move in the open field. At this point Taysom has two men to beat and one of them is engaged with Trinnaman near the sideline. By the looks of it the Utah safety, #20, should be able to take an nice angle towards the sideline and stop Taysom from running free. But as the great Lee Corso says, “NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND.”
This is where we see 1) Taysom turn on the jets and 2) Trinnaman makes a textbook block. For most of the play Jonah had been running down the sideline running a fly pattern to clear out the corner. Once the cornerback turns to see that it’s not a pass play and that Hill is barreling down the field, Trinnaman is able to catch him off balance and take him to the ground. Not only does this eliminate one of the defenders, but it also forces the safety to take an indirect route to get to Taysom. It could be that he underestimated Hill’s speed but either way, Jonah’s block made it harder for #20 to make a play.
From here Taysom shows us why we shouldn’t be worried about his past injuries, at least as they relate to his speed. Even though the safety took a terrible angle, Hill still turns on the burners to quickly escape an arm tackle and tip-toes down the sideline.
Trinnaman’s block was the most obvious (and impactful) of them all but without Norman’s block on the middle linebacker and Pututau’s take-down of the DB into the ref, Taysom likely doesn't take this one to the house.
The next time you watch any football game, look for the wide receivers blocking downfield. Running backs are talented dudes but it’s usually thanks to the recievers that thay get showcased on Sports Center. Fingers crossed we get to see more of this on Saturday against UCLA.