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Part One: Why a Pro-style Offense is the Right Choice for BYU Football

The BYU offense has struggled mightily in 2017. Will Ty Detmer’s scheme ever produce?

Utah v BYU Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

As is frequently the case with BYU, the offense is a hot topic of conversation. The Cougars’ most recent offensive struggles have left many wondering if Ty Detmer’s pro-style offense is the right fit for BYU and their roster. We enlisted two of our writers to answer the question: “Can the pro-style offense work at BYU?” This is part 1 of 2. Look for the second article tomorrow.

Yes, the pro-style offense is the way to go

Kalani Sitake might not say it as often as Bronco Mendenhall did, but the ultimate goal of BYU football will always be to win another national championship. But to play at the highest level of the college game, you need players of the highest caliber. Take a look at how the teams who have played in the first three College Football Playoffs (and BYU) have done in the last three NFL Drafts (2015, 2016, and 2017):

CFP Participants’ Draft Picks, 2015-17

School Total Draft Picks Taken in First 3 Rounds Heisman Finalists
School Total Draft Picks Taken in First 3 Rounds Heisman Finalists
Alabama 24 19 2
Ohio State 24 18 0
Clemson 20 9 1
Florida State 17 10 0
Oklahoma 15 5 2
Washington 11 8 0
Michigan State 11 4 0
Oregon 7 5 1
BYU 2 0 0

I’m sorry, I probably should have included a trigger warning before dropping that table. Clearly, there’s some work to be done in getting players to the NFL. It goes without saying that BYU has some built-in disadvantages on the recruiting trail. The best way for the Cougars to overcome these disadvantages and attract recruits with NFL potential is to prove to those prospects that they will be able to develop and maximize that potential. And the best way for BYU to prepare recruits and players to someday reach the NFL is by running a pro-style offense.

One of the biggest benefits to installing and running a pro-style offense is that it will allow BYU to play to its recruiting strengths. While there are several varieties of what we call “spread” offenses (just like there are pro-style offenses), the main goal of a spread offense is generally to get the ball to your playmakers when they have space to operate. Spread teams usually manipulate tempo and formations in order to accomplish that goal and tire out the opposing defense. Speed kills, which is one reason that the spread has completely taken over high school football. High school teams put their best athletes at QB and let them loose.

BYU never has, and probably never will, be an especially speedy team. The Cougars need an offensive system that fits the kind of talent that BYU is able to attract. A successful pro-style offense, no matter the balance of run/pass plays called, requires:

· A smart quarterback

· A massive offensive line to create running lanes and protect the QB

· Big fullbacks to enlarge those running lanes

· Decisive and powerful running backs that can also block and catch passes

· Big tight ends who can protect the edges and release to catch passes

These are types of players that BYU has been able to successfully recruit in the past and should be able to recruit again. As recruiting guru Jeff Hansen recently pointed out on Twitter, BYU has already begun to recruit bigger offensive linemen to run the new system:

As for the skill positions, BYU has never had trouble getting guys who can play fullback in a pro-style system; that includes Bronco-era players like Fui Vakapuna, Manase Tonga, and Paul Lasike. BYU’s all-time leading rusher, Jamaal Williams, is perhaps the prototypical running back for a pro-style offense; hopefully, Ula Tolutau will be able to follow in the Swag Daddy’s footsteps. The tight end position, with its storied history at BYU, has gone through a rough few years since the graduation of Dennis Pitta and Andrew George. Fortunately, Detmer and co. have already begun to remedy this; Matt Bushman is showing potential to be the next great BYU TE.

No player is more important to a pro-style offense than the QB. Saints rookie Taysom Hill (isn’t that great to see in writing?) has given credit to Detmer’s scheme and coaching in preparing him to make an NFL roster. Tanner Mangum, despite his early struggles this season, has the talent and football IQ to master the complexities of the pro-style offense.

The path forward for BYU recruiting is clear. If the BYU coaches are able to successfully teach their players how to run a pro-style offense and sends their experienced players to the NFL, their recruiting pitches will become more effective. Talented high school players will be more willing to look past the unique challenges of attending BYU if they believe that so doing will get them to the next level. Better recruits can lead to more wins, and a chance for BYU to regain some of the glory fans so desperately crave.

Of course, as interesting as everything I just wrote might be, I doubt it comes as much comfort to all of the fans who are frustrated by what they’ve seen on the field thus far. And there’s no denying that it’s been ug-ly. Statistically, BYU sits near the bottom in virtually every offensive category. And there’s not much reason to believe that a visit from 9th-ranked Wisconsin, especially if Mangum is out, will make it any prettier.

The only advice I can offer is to be patient, as hard as that may be. Reports out of fall camp were of a lively offense that moved the ball in a variety of fun ways. Getting up to game speed, particularly when facing high-quality defenses like LSU’s or Utah’s, is apparently more difficult than it would appear. As Dick Harmon recently pointed out in the Deseret News, injuries to key personnel like projected starting TE Moroni Laulu-Pututau and RB Ula Tolutau (and now Tanner Mangum) have caused setbacks to the development of the offense. But after Wisconsin leaves Provo, BYU gets a week off before the schedule begins to ease up a little bit. It’s my hope that the team I see in Starkville, Mississippi will be dramatically more productive than the one I saw in the Superdome.

But why deal with these growing pains in the first place? One of the most common suggestions I’ve seen from well-meaning Cougar fans is that Detmer should simply run what his players are good at, instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. But I believe Coach Sitake and his staff intend to be at BYU much longer than the current roster. If they believe, whether for the reasons I have given or for others, that a pro-style offense is the best option for the long-term success of BYU football, then they ought to be given the time necessary to put it in place, growing pains and all.

There is a saying that I frequently hear in Tuscaloosa: “Trust the Process’.” BYU’s in the early stages of its own offensive process; I think it’s time for us fans to show a little more trust.