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Countdown to Kickoff (77): The steady rise of BYU’s Aleva Hifo

BYU will look to their senior to be a weapon as runner and receiver.

BYU v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When Aleva Hifo first jumped on the scene as freshman it was clear that he had the natural ability to make an impact. He handled a majority of the kick return duties and was able to find his way onto the field as receiver even though that position was crowded with upperclassmen. But while the talent was there, the inexperience was also apparent.

In his first two years there were plenty of moments where it looked like Aleva wasn’t quite on the same page as the rest of the BYU offense. If we’re being fair, the offensive unit under Ty Detmer never really looked in-sync, but Hifo stood out as someone who was just a few steps behind.

Then in 2018 things seemed to click for Aleva.

When Jeff Grimes was brought on as offensive coordinator, he made it clear that they were going to build an offense that would showcase the skills and abilities of BYU’s best players. This was music to the ears of BYU faithful who were frustrated with the mismanagement of talented players such as Jonah Trinnaman over the previous two seasons. Hifo fit that same mold as Jonah and it was good to hear that changes were on the way.

The extent to which specific plays were customized around specific players is unknown, but after the first couple of games in the 2018 season it was clear that Aleva Hifo was going to have a larger role to play, especially in the running game. The jet sweep is a staple play in Grimes offense (which is heavily influenced by one Matt Canada) that utilized multiple players but the one most suited for such a play was Hifo. This was somewhat surprising seeing that Hifo didn’t have a single rushing yard in his previous two seasons with the Cougars.

In his first game against Arizona, Aleva carried the ball four times on jet sweeps for an average of 4.8 yards per cary and then against Cal he toted the rock twice for 18 yards. Relatively small potatoes but it’s never bad to get 4+ yards per play. It was clear how the sweep was setting up the rest of the offense and it was most apparent against Wisconsin, where Hifo’s performance helped spring BYU for the upset.

In the very first offensive series BYU went with the jet sweep twice with Aleva and he busted off runs of 15 and 8 yards. As the game goes on you can see the Wisconsin defense adjusting for the sweep, which in turn would open things up for Squally Canada to run free up the middle of the Badger defense. Squally was limited to 11 carried due to injury but he still had a career day rushing for 118 yards for an astonishing 10.7 yards per carry.

And it wasn’t just the running game where Aleva set up his teammates for offensive success. On a trick play Hifo connected with Moroni Laulu-Pututau for a go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter. The win in Madison was truly a team effort but it’s hard to see it happening without Hifo’s contribution.

Things changed for BYU’s offense in a big way once they handed the quarterback duties over to Zach Wilson. The number of pre-snap motions were decreased and many other things were simplified for the freshman. While the jet sweep with Aleva was still part of the playbook, it wasn’t quite the foundational play that it was with Tanner Mangum at the helm. Hifo was still able to make plays as a wide out, as he ended up as the second leading receiver (in total yards) on the season. The most impressive play came in the bowl game against Western Michigan where he torched the secondary on a 70 yard touchdown catch.

As we look ahead to 2019, Hifo will now be one of the most experienced playmakers on offense, having made significant contributions on the ground and in the air. The curious thing will be to see just how the offensive staff will utilize him now that Zach Wilson has a good number of games under his belt. Will the offense start to move back to the complicated pre-snap motions that we saw the first four games last year? Or will they learn a little more on the passing attack?

Either way, the coaching still will be ready to set Aleva Hifo up to make big plays.