After the loss to UCLA, many fans were unimpressed with the offense and specifically their inability to move the ball through the air. It’s really difficult to completely dissect exactly where things so go wrong when throwing the football (due to limited camera angles) but this week we’ll take a look at a critical play from that game that might help give some insight to what’s going wrong.
Let’s take a second and watch the play.
This passing down came early in the game and could have been forgotten because it happened on the first drive. It also only was seen by the live crowd or people who were able to watch on ESPN3 online as the game schedule before the BYU-UCLA broadcast went long. BYU got a substantial gain on a nice dump pass to a wide open Jamaal Williams who took it down the field for a nice pickup.
After stalling out on their side of the field, Kalani elected to go for it on 4th down. Starting with the formation, we have shotgun (with Jamaal to the right of Taysom) and two sets of receivers set up relatively tight to the offensive line. Pearson and Hifo make up the receiver set on the far side of the field and Kurtz and Laulu-Pututau are lined up on the near side.
UCLA counters with four down lineman, two linebackers who are showing blitz as they crowd the line of scrimmage, two cornerbacks are playing tight and three safeties (one over each set of receivers and another that is deep and out of the picture). On a passing down like 4th-and-eight UCLA has the decision to bring pressure or drop into coverage. We’ll see in this next sequence that they do a little of both. Here it’s important to see how tight to the line eight of UCLA’s defenders are lining up.
Here we see Taysom taking his straight drop and UCLA bringing initial pressure with their four down lineman. The two linebackers that were showing blitz back off from their bluff and split duties, with one doing a straight drop into pass coverage in the middle of the field while the other continues to hover around the line of scrimmage, shadowing Taysom in the event that he decides to take off and run downfield. Clearly, UCLA watched BYU’s game against Utah where Taysom was able to run for close to 100 yards and two scores. This is a smart call by Bruins because it gives them enough pressure with four but also allows them to defend against a mobile QB.
UCLA does a basic twist on the offensive front (having one defensive lineman cross in front to free up another defender coming around) but BYU does a good job picking it up. Protection is key here on this down which is why Jamaal is staying home to pick up any blitzing linebackers. At this point, we can’t really see how the receivers are starting to move into their routes but it’s clear they aren’t setting up a screen or anything else.
As mentioned previously, we don’t get to see the full view of what the exact routes that these receivers are running but we’re still able to gather some interesting tidbits. First, we can see that the offensive line is giving Taysom some time with a nice pocket. UCLA’s defensive end on the near side of the field is starting to make an inside move to collapse the pocket but the line is holding steady.
We start to see a receiver on each side of the field start to break off their routes, with Colby Pearson stopping around the 30-yard line and Kurtz turning back around the 28. The curious thing to note here is that both of these receivers are well short of the first down marker which is set at the 23-yard line. This might seem maddening that Ty Detmer would call a play in which two of the four options are finishing their routes well short of the sticks. While this could be poor route running by the wideouts, it’s most likely by design to give the wide receivers running the deeper routes more space to work with. If you run all four guys on deeper routes, it will be very easy to cover. In this instance, the play call gives Pututau and Hifo space to work against the three deep safeties.
At this point, Taysom is making his key read. He’s eyeing the safety in the middle of the field to see if he stays put to help cover Pututau who is running a skinny post towards the middle of the field or if he goes over to the far side of the field to cover Hifo. From the second angle that ESPN shows after the play is over, we can see how Taysom does an excellent job at looking the safety off, freezing him in the middle of the field for just a few seconds so that he can’t make a play on his throw over to Hifo.
Thus far everything is working in BYU’s favor. The offensive line has given solid protection and Taysom looks the safety off to give Hifo one-on-one coverage in the deep third of the field. Now all that needs to happen is Hifo needs to run a clean route to create some separation and Taysom needs to deliver an accurate ball.
Here we can see that Hifo has created a good amount of separation from the safety and the defender won’t have any chance at the ball unless it’s drastically underthrown.
Unfortunately, Taysom sails this pass by a couple of yards, missing the wide open Hifo for what could have been a touchdown. It’s easy to place the blame on Taysom for this pass because Hifo is clearly open and he wasn’t able to put the ball on the mark. What we can’t see is if Hifo took a little too much time making a move in his break to get open. There is a chance that he didn’t have his footing and the timing of the route was thrown off. Taysom is throwing this ball right as he’s going into this break so a completion here is based on timing more than anything.
Hopefully, through this breakdown, it’s evident that there is a lot that needs to go into a good pass play. The offensive line needs to protect, the receivers need to run the correct routes for spacing purposes and the quarterback needs to make the correct read and make an accurate throw. In this instance, it’s hard to tell.
Either way, if the Cougars expect to hang with a quality opponent in West Virginia things need to improve.