Balanced, sophisticated offense
BYU’s offensive attack is THE historical passing attack. Although the principles of the West Coast Offense can be traced to Paul Brown through the likes of Bill Walsh, innovative offensive schemes often make the big splash in college ranks before showing up in the pros.
LaVell Edwards saw that an offense based on the forward pass and utilizing all eligible receivers could level the playing field for his under-sized, under-talented Cougars. And it worked out. LaVell is a legend in college football, and led his non-BCS, non-Alliance Cougars to a National Championship.
But LaVell’s offense was based on the pass with very few runs. In the 90’s, Norm Chow, the wide receivers coach for the Cougars, was promoted to Offensive Coordinator. With the recruitment of some Running Back talent (Jamal Willis, Ronney Jenkins, Luke Staley), Chow utilized more I-formation and single-back sets with a pro-style running game, including multiple systems. BYU never really produced a devastating running game, but they became more balanced.
The Gary Crowton years are generally best forgotten, except for the 2001 season, when Luke Staley won the Doak Walker award for best collegiate running back. The Cougars were balanced, but lacked offense for years after.
These days, Offensive Coordinator Robert Anai has utilized spread offensive schemes rarely, depending mostly on talented tight ends and running backs as support for the passing game. As well, the Cougars flex some serious muscle in the backfield. The BYU running backs are complete backs- able to pound the ball, run away from defenders, and receive out of the backfield. BYU receivers are fast and smart, able to stretch the defense.
All in all, the Cougars of today resemble the Cougars of the glory days rather closely. But today, more than ever, the running game is a prime concern when playing BYU.
Bend, not break Defense
LaVell Edwards was defensive coach before he became head coach for BYU. He knew little to nothing about offense- calling himself “an old single-wing guy”. He knew defense, though. Throughout the years, LaVell put a premium on defense. Defense remains the #1 priority for the Cougars. Their philosophy is based on points- Don’t let the opponent score and score more points than the opponent.
The Cougars have had great defenses in the past- most recently, Shaye Muirbrook and the ’97 cougars, Rob Morris and the ’98-99 Cougars, Aaron Francisco and Brady Poppinga on the 2004-‘05 squads. Lately, the defense has been more solid than ever. With the addition of Coach Jaime Hill and a 3-4 front, the Cougars employ a “bend, don’t break” defense that is both simple and comprehensive. They have a suitable answer for any situation. Even the 2005 season saw teams exploiting Bronco Mendenhall’s 3-3-5 defense by loading up the line and running to the edges.
BYU now lines up excellent linebackers on the edges that are able to set the edge and cover, if needed. The scheme allows for quick decision-making, which lets the defense go fast. The technique is also vastly improved, with defenders being in better positions to make plays.
With 2 consecutive shutouts, the defense has a lot to be confident about with many difficult tests still to come, especially from spread/modified single wing offenses.
The Cougars are as fast and fit as any college football team, and a lot of their success can be attributed to their character as people. That has only gotten them so far, historically. With the right people in place and the right schemes to employ those peoples’ talents, the Cougars are making a run on the BCS.