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Part Two: Why a Pro-style Offense doesn’t make sense for BYU Football

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The pro-style offense hasn’t produced yet and it doesn’t make sense to stick with it.

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 2 of 2. You can check out part 1 of this installment here.

No, the pro-style offense isn’t right for BYU

I might be in a position of convenience to be criticizing the style of offense that BYU running, considering their poor performance as of late, but my stance against the pro-style offense has less to do with BYU’s current funk and more to do with the increased challenges and talent required to run such an offense.

A pro-style offense can appear basic in nature but relies on complexities that allow skilled players to adjust at the line of scrimmage. Using a tight end and fullback, teams deploy a balanced attack that establishes the running game to eventually open up the passing lanes. Obviously there are variations that exist between the different teams but unlike college football you wouldn’t be able to identify a specific NFL team simply by the way the line up on offense. Very few college teams have adopted true pro-style principles with some of the exceptions being the likes of Michigan, Florida State, LSU Wisconsin, Arkansas and Georgia.

So why shouldn’t BYU follow in their footsteps? Let’s explore.

Pro-style offenses require elite players across the board, something BYU does not have

If you take a look at the list of teams that I just rattled off, you’ll notice that each of them have something in common. They’re loaded with talent. They can line up against any team in the nation and win based on talent alone.

Those who defend BYU’s use of a pro-style offense often point to a team like Stanford, one of the few teams in the West that employs the traditional pro-style principles. The key to Stanford’s success is the fact that they have the talent to win individual match ups at every single position. They have NFL-caliber offensive lineman and electric skill players that make if difficult to defend. While BYU might be able to mimic Stanford’s formations, it’s hard to think that they will ever be able to recruit the same level of talent.

Over the last five years one offensive player for BYU (Jamaal Williams) was drafted to an NFL team. In the same amount of time Stanford had 13 offensive players drafted. While this probably says more about BYU’s previous coaching staff than the current one, the fact remains that teams like Stanford and USC will always be able to pull in better talent that BYU. Kalani and his staff have done an excellent job infusing energy into the program but to expect them to pull in a top-15 recruiting class is unfair.

BYU’s version of the pro-style offense is easy to defend

But what if BYU were to recruit to their strength (as Chase Troutner suggested) and focus on bringing in beefy offensive lineman, skilled tight ends and bruising running backs? They would probably be a little more effective than they are currently but without talented receivers on the outside, teams can focus their efforts on stuffing the run while getting by with single coverage pass defense.

In order for a pro-style offense to work more players have to win their battles in the trenches because more defensive players are at the point of attack. If a team lines up with a tight end, a fullback and a halfback defenses can justify putting eight players in the box, forcing the offense to win more individual battles upfront. If the offense spreads out with three receivers and a flex tight end or H back in the slot, the defense has to adjust by clearing out linebackers and safeties to match up. While there are fewer blockers, the number of players you need to beat decreases. So with a pro-style offense you need to win seven or eight individual battles for a successful run play, you only need to win five or six when the offense is spread out.

This idea of decreasing the number of individual battles is the entire reason why teams run bubble screens. Offenses are able to isolate a specific part of the field and change the play from 11-on-11 to 3-on-3 or 2-on-2.

If you watch any of BYU’s games this season you will see that teams are usually able to bring seven or eight players into the box (3-5 yards from the line of scrimmage) when BYU lines up with a tight end and a fullback. This allows for teams to suffocate BYU’s rushing attack and apply a good amount of pressure on the quarterback. If teams are crowding the line of scrimmage it should mean wide open passing lanes but teams with talented defensive backs can easily cover BYU’s WRs one-on-one with minimal safety help.

BYU was able to complete a few passes downfield against Portland State because they’re better 1v1 against that level of competition. They will probably be able to do the same against Utah State, UMass and UNLV but I have a feeling that the coaching staff (and the fan base) isn’t content to win on talent alone against lesser competition. If they want to have any chance at beating teams like LSU they need to apply a schematic advantage to help overcome their talent deficit.

Pro-style offenses are too complex for most college teams

An effective pro-style offense requires more than a quarterback who is comfortable taking snaps under center. It’s demands intense study and acclimation to the point where multiple adjustments can be made at the line of scrimmage based on what the defenses is showing.

Because of the limited number of practices and meeting time, college coaches are forced to either A) implement watered-down version of the pro-style offense or B) try and jam year’s worth of material into a three week crash course. When you run a simplified version of this offense, it doesn’t provide the tactical advantage of being able to quickly audible out of any play and exploit the defense. Teams can still make adjustments at the line of scrimmage but not to the extent that is required in an effective pro-style set.

As it relates to BYU, there is a chance that Ty Detmer (having never coached at the college level) may have come into to BYU hoping to impart on his 14 years of NFL experience not realizing how much the offense would need to be simplified. Last year BYU’s passing attack was never in sync, with constant miscommunication between Taysom Hill and the receivers. This year, with a group that is starting players who have had a year to learn the offense, are still struggling. Implementing an offense with a steep learning curve that requires multiple years of coaching and learning doesn’t make mush sense at the college level where players are on campus for a limited amount of time.

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At the end of the day BYU can’t afford to try and beat teams on talent alone. In order to keep up with other top 25 programs they need to implement an offense that can mask their talent deficiencies by spreading things out and making teams defend the entire field. If not BYU will continue to beat lesser opponents but struggle against better competition.