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BYU Offense: So Long, 'Go Long'

Taysom Hill and the BYU Cougars are devastatingly good at running the football, so why continue to bother with the desire to throw it downfield? The Cougars know what their identity is, will they be savvy enough to stick to it?

Chris Covatta

Famed psychologist Erik Erikson coined the phrase "identity crisis." Identity crisis refers to the neurosis found primarily in adolescents when they fail to find ego identity. Essentially, ego identity is who you think you are combined with the familiar feelings and emotions that you identify with yourself.

An identity crisis arises in people when there is incongruence between who they think they are and what they actually are.

Those who experience an identity crisis exhibit confusion. Trying desperately to find an identity, one may make poor choices to find an identity because even a negative identity is better than no identity at all.

However, Erikson noted that adolescents who develop from this stage of their life with a strong sense of identity are well equipped to face adulthood with confidence and certainty.

According to Erikson, the key to avoiding or resolving an identity crisis is found in fidelity.  In the case of identity crisis, fidelity means being faithful, loyal and true.  In being honest with oneself, you can find balance with reality and idealization.

The problem of identity crisis can happen to a football team.

BYU has now played 1/4 of the 2014 season. The Cougars find themselves at 3-0. They have made it to this point as they have capitalized on the identity they established last season (and perhaps, the lack of identity found at UConn and Texas with new head coaches). BYU's identity is that of a devastatingly good team at running the football.

But that is a strange feeling for BYU. BYU passes the football. BYU revolutionized the passing game. BYU was the first school to have 2 different QBs throw for over 3,000 yards. BYU was the first school to have a 4,000 yard passer. The Cougars even had 2 different QBs reach 4,000 yards before another NCAA school had 1. Ty Detmer was the game's 1st 5,000 yard passer in a season. BYU flings the pigskin!

Not anymore. At least, not for now. And BYU shouldn't pass, it should run.

When Taysom Hill has started at QB:
BYU is 2-4 when Taysom Hill attempts 40 passes or more in a game.
BYU is 11-1 when Taysom Hill attempts 39 passes or less in a game.

When Jamaal Williams has started at RB:
BYU is 12-4 when Jamaal Williams has 15 rushes or more in a game.
BYU is 3-4 when Jamaal Williams has 14 rushes or less in a game.

Yes, balance is important. Yes, it is harder to defend a good passing attack than a good running attack. I can be more fun to watch a downfield pass then a dive up the middle. The Cougars will win more games if they are a run heavy team. Passing isn't the Cougars strength.

Early leads are more important than any desire to show off Taysom's arm, offensive evolution, or involving the wide receivers. Pass just enough to keep the defense honest. Otherwise: ground game please, especially in the red zone.

Don't cause any sort of identity moratorium by trying to explore any other avenues that play away from strengths. This might include a punter running on 4th down on your side of the field when half of his 10 punts have pinned opponents inside the 20, including two punts that were downed inside the 3 -- one of which resulted in a safety.

Especially when, to that point of the game, your opponent had only scored when it started with positive field position. If you wanted to go for it on 4th and 1, wouldn't the best option for conversion be Taysom Hill or Jamaal Williams on the ground? Or Paul Lasike, Adam Hine, Algernon Brown?

When you do that sort of thing, you look like the well-intentioned but flighty kid on campus who aimlessly bounces from major to major looking for a "passion" when in reality, their passion is alternatives. Yeah, that kid never moves back in with their parents.

Coach Robert Anae has tried to add a component to the "Go Hard, Go Fast" offense.  That component being "Go Long." The problem is that BYU cannot seem to "Go Long."

It is difficult to pass the ball downfield. The throw is challenging for the QB. The O-line must provide enough time for the receiver to get downfield. The receiver must beat their matchup while also benefiting from the play design drawing away a second defender, otherwise the receiver must beat out 2 defenders. A plethora of things have to go right at all 11 positions on the field. Considering this, it is unclear if BYU has the players at all three offensive units that allows them the luxury of throwing the ball downfield.

Through three games, the Cougars have yet to complete a downfield throw for over 30 yards despite calling 135 pass plays. A lot of fans are blaming the O-line for their failure to give enough time to Taysom Hill. Some blame Taysom for not having the arm talent to lay the ball out there or the trust in his receivers to make a play. Fewer are blaming this wide receiver corp for their failure to provide an opening in their routes that would warrant a downfield pass attempt.

Aren't opposing defenses loading up the box to prevent the run?  Shouldn't that mean more 1 on 1 situations? In cases of O-line failure, isn't Taysom Hill one of the best QBs with his legs in the country? He is certainly buying more time for the receivers to get open. It has been 3 games! How much time do these WRs need exactly? Maybe its time to see who else can run a streak, hitch and go, or "sluggo." The guys running them now aren't getting open.

Or maybe it is time to bag the dream of going long altogether.

BYU's bread is buttered on passes of 10 or less yards to receivers running hitch routes. 25 of Taysom Hill's 67 completions (37.3%) this season have been caught on a hitch route. In addressing downfield throws, I'm not including yards after catch, I'm only looking at where the receiver caught the football. An astounding 59 of Taysom's 67 completions (88.1%) have come with a throw that traveled 10 yards or less downfield.  Hill is 8/21 (38.1%) with 2 TDs and an INT when throwing the ball over 10 yards downfield.  Interestingly, Hill is 4/6 with a TD and INT when throwing downfield over 20 yards this season.  Meaning he is 4/15 when throwing between 10-20 yards.

A possible fix to the downfield woes may come from looking more toward the middle of the field. Of Taysom's 21 downfield throws, 15 were intended at the numbers to the sideline. Only 6 have been tried in the middle of the field. Of those six, two completions: Mitch Matthews' 26 yard TD catch at UConn and Jordan Leslie's juggling catch against Texas have been made between the numbers downfield.

Perhaps it is time to change the downfield routes in the playbook to slants, posts, outs, and crosses. BYU receivers are far more comfortable running those, the QB is more comfortable throwing those, and the O-line seems far more apt to provide the time necessary for those routes.

Another factor to consider: BYU has had 26 pass plays result in a Taysom Hill scramble due to a pocket collapsing or receivers failure to get open. Six pass plays have resulted in Taysom throwing the ball away, five of them come as a result of receivers being covered. The other came due to a bad snap.

Finally, Taysom has been sacked 11 times this season (this offensive line is surrendering sacks at a faster rate than the 2013 O-line did by nearly one sack more per game). That's a combined 47 plays where failures occurred on the offensive line, receivers, or both. With 135 pass plays this season, that's 34.8% of all of Taysom's drop backs.  Thank goodness Taysom can run.

It is great that BYU has explored itself. The Cougars have a more enriched experience, but now it is time to commit to their strength. Its time to be honest about who they are. They'll be far more successful that way.

BYU is a running team. They are more Wisconsin than Baylor -- and that's okay. Being a running team can lead to some pretty brutal physical battles that will be won by toughness and desire. Anybody who watched the 4th quarter against Houston can attest to the grind Jamaal and Taysom put in to give the Cougars a victory.

A guy sitting five seats to my right during the Houston game kept getting frustrated in the 2nd half. He was dismayed at BYU's lack of passing. He would go crazy when all seven of BYU's opening plays of the drive in the 2nd half were a simple run up the gut. Five of them were by Jamaal Williams. He was railing at the predictability of it all. While it isn't glamourous, Robert Anae was doing just what his team needed and the angry fan, of course, was wrong.

BYU simply couldn't pass late in the game against Houston. BYU had 10 called pass plays in the 4th quarter -- 4/10 resulted in a Taysom Hill scramble, 3/10 resulted in a sack, 2/10 were completed for 10 yards, 1/10 was an interception. Good grief.

Fortunately, BYU went conservative and leaned back on its identity. Cougars run. They run hard. They run well.

At this adolescent stage of the football season, it is only natural to fear the possibility of an identity crisis. BYU looked rough for a couple quarters against Houston as it toiled with a mini identity crisis. Houston mounted a comeback and put in an upset bid based solely on its firm understanding of its strength in passing and completely abandoning the run.

BYU is lucky enough that it started strong enough so that foundation would support them through their crisis.

Taysom Hill is unlike any other QB BYU has ever seen. In fact, Taysom is unlike most any QB any school has seen. He's a capable short route passer and a divine rusher. Take him as he is. Let him do what he does best, otherwise, the Cougars offense will meander. Its time to say, "so long" to Go Long and embrace the identity that belongs to BYU: power running.