5 Things BYU Players Need to Do to Be Above-Average Players

Alex StrelnikovCorrespondent IIJuly 13, 2012

5 Things BYU Players Need to Do to Be Above-Average Players

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    BYU, in the recruiting world of athletes, seems to be able to get some fairly average athletes on a consistent basis that allows it to compete with anyone and beat the lesser teams but rarely break out and beat the really good teams.

    As I watch the recruiting sheets, I see top athletes who are "uncommitted" or "listed" by their names. I wonder what it would take for BYU to get some of those athletes, but then reality sets in. The nature of BYU—its uniqueness, the peculiarity of it and the type of athlete that is attracted there is not conducive to some of these all-American athletes. I look at them and see tattoos, their hair long or on end, and as magnificent physical specimen as they are, their very countenance does not say BYU.

    Thus, we might all be resolved to having a lower standard of player striving to be all he can be but knowing in his heart he just isn't as good as the competition he will be facing. At least not anymore now that BYU has jettisoned the MWC. 

    I suppose it would be easy to jump on coaching in the same way LaVell Edwards was jumped on when he didn't win every game or nine or 10 games a year. Or in the case of Gary Crowton, after going 12-2, the expectation level was so high that when he tallied three losing seasons, the blame was clearly his to own. I have often wondered about that.

    After all, the players play the game. A missed block, a fumbled punt, a dropped pass, one thrown too long, or short, or low or high is ultimately not the coach's fault. Perhaps calling the wrong play that consistently fails can be laid at the coach's feet. But the play itself, that belongs on the field.

    Last year, I watched a pretty mediocre BYU team excel at times, and at others, it simply bandied about like it was Idaho State playing Alabama (yes, the Utah game comes to mind). I watched the O-line intensely play after play, recorded the games and replayed them in slow motion, watching only the O-line and what they did and did not do from the time the ref put the ball on the ground until the ball was put on the ground again. Full scope, from start of one play to the start of the next play, what the O-line did.

    Then I ran the tape again and watched the D-line, then the ends, then the defensive backs and on until I got a picture of what these brave young kids were doing every minute of the game that they were on the field. I came to five conclusions on how BYU players could be better and overcome the stigma of being a 2-star, 3-star or NO-Star player into being as competitive as any player on any team.

    Now, to be fair, I did much the same with the videos of a couple other teams I had at my disposal. I had all of BYU's games and a half-dozen of the top-10 teams. So off I went on my quest to see what the 5, 4 and 3-star players looked like, acted like and did, versus BYU players.

    Following are my five observations on how BYU players can become 3, 4, and 5-star players on the field. 

Size Matters

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    As I analyzed the players on the various top-10 teams, notably Stanford and Baylor, I looked at the quarterback and what his physical characteristics where. Size, strength, what happened when he got hit, did he get hurt easily and were there a number of injuries in his history. I especially paid attention to the flow of the game. That goes for other positions as well. 

    I noticed that the top teams had key position players who were not just fit. They were outstanding examples of physical fitness and muscularity. When Robert Griffin was hit, he bounced around, spun and kept going. They really had to drag that kid to the ground, and it was not an easy job. The same with Mr. Luck. A big strong kid is an understatement. I kept seeing brave Riley Nelson scramble for his life, and I would cringe. He isn't quite 6'0" tall, though the roster puts him there, and 196 pounds (though I think that is after a shower and in full uniform).

    Contrast him to Mr. Griffin. He is 6'2" and 223 pounds. Mr. Luck, 6'4", 225-plus. I wondered if this sounded familiar. Tim Tebow, 6'3", 235 pounds. I went to the BYU roster.

    Of eight quarterbacks, seven of them were undersized and or underweight in comparison. Only Jason Munns (6'5", 250 pounds), matched up. I wondered that if Jason had been smashing into that Texas line in the fourth quarter like Tim Tebow did at Florida, then would the game outcome have been different? I mean, BYU only recruits athletes that are, well at least average, if not above-average, so obviously, the kid can at least hold onto the ball and run forward right? 

    I started looking at O-line comparisons also. I looked at Notre Dame, since that is who BYU is playing this year, and as a standard, ND has an O-line that is consistently 6'5" and 300 pounds. BYU comes in, except for two tall outliers, at about 6'3" and almost 300 pounds. There are some outliers there that really make the idea of average skewed, as BYU has both short and tall players and heavy and light. So average is really misleading, whereas it seems ND could all exchange clothes with each other for the most part. Is there a pattern here?

    Let's look at the D-line.

    ND has some short guys at nose tackle, but its defensive ends are 6'5"-6'6" and range in the 285 pound area. BYU has some short nose tackles also, but shorter than ND, though they weigh as much or more. As I broke them down further, I realized the ND players were not carrying as much fat and had more muscle as an average across the board. Linebackers, defensive backs, ends, the line, running backs, etc. Though the two teams appear on paper to be able to match up, depending on who is in the game, BYU is just not quite there regarding conditioning and physicality.

    And then I looked at Alabama.

    BYU actually matches up better with Alabama in size than it does with Notre Dame, but not in weight. Alabama in its big men are heavier and also in its smaller men.  Although weight does not tell all, it seems like they might be in better shape also.

    I had to do some more investigating. I won't go into it, but I poked around, and sure enough, the pictures told the story. Alabama has an amazing weight program that is focused on strength and conditioning, and that is very superior.

    Conclusion: Size matters, but it is the right size. It is not fat, weight or pounds carried, but it is pounds, weight lifted and fat not present.

    Instantly, Larry Scott, the famous Mormon bodybuilder, came to mind. As two-time former Mr. Olympia and holding many other championships, why don't BYU athletes look a little more like him and a little less like they have had too much of that famous BYU ice cream that we all enjoyed at the Cougar Eat?

    Recommendation No. 1: For BYU players to move from the no-star category of players to the 2, 3, 4 or 5-star category, cut out the fat and put on some muscle. Get big, get lean. 

Speed Matters

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    When I watch BYU ends streaking down the field for a pass, I wonder why they have such skinny legs, small thighs and small arms. For years, I thought that if they had muscle on them, they would go slower. I thought they needed to look more like skinny Lance Armstrong to be fast. 

    Then, watching the Olympics, I noticed something. Those sprinters were not skinny nor small. I began looking backwards all the way to Jessie Owens and the 1932 Olympics in Berlin. Owens had the body of tone and muscle that any BYU athlete would envy. Should envy. Should be like. 

    BYU can not compete on the national level unless some, if not all, of its athletes, look like Shawn Crawford and Owens.

    Suddenly, Carl Lewis came to mind. I could not help but think about games that BYU had lost. I am an analyst and look for imperfections, errors, the reason things fail. So I applied my analyst hat to what was happening on the field on each play. Where was each player during the play and why was he there?

    Time and time again, I noticed players were not in the right place because the opposing player had either pushed them out of the way, were faster and ran around them or the BYU player was slow and didn't make it to his assignment in time. Blocks missed, holes not opened, running backs unable to get to the line before the line collapsed as defenses made it, attack points faster. The defense was reacting to BYU faster than BYU could create the attack. 

    Speed, the lack of it in this case, and presence of it in the opponents, killed BYU time and time again.

    BYU needs to take a page out of the Lewis training guide, You think this is sarcasm. It isn't. Carl has posted his workout tips, schedules and routines online for free. So have others. I think there needs to be a change at BYU in who is working our men out and each one of them should look like a Lewis, Crawford, Ben Johnson or Scott. 

    Solution: Their numbers are available online for help.

Attention: Getting Your Head in the Game

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    Strength and speed are the first two. Next comes attention. Your head has to be in the game all the time. Far too often, I would see players looking over to the bench at coaches to get cues on "What do we do now, coach?"

    I look at the NFL combine and wonder, "Why aren't all of the BYU seniors there?"

    Well, you look at the attention to preparation that other players put forward, and you have your answer. BYU players are not being driven to excellence; they are being led to "good enough."

    The concept of what they are supposed to be doing seems to be lost at times. On 3rd-and-5, "What do we do, coach?" A play would be rushed in that they stood around and talked about it to each other, shifted, looked for a signal, waited for an audible to be called, then changed and maybe, maybe not. 

    Though third-down conversion throwing was excellent, why didn't the players know what to do, when to do it and where they were to be? Their head was being played with by the coaching staff, who was playing the game and using them as the pieces. Players rarely jumped up off the field and ran to the line knowing what the next play was. There seemed to be no understanding that on 2nd-and-7 on your own five-yard line, you would run right to the wide side of the field on a Riley option to Ross Apo, on three. Ready, set...

    It constantly seemed as though, at the long end of the field, someone was trundling onto the field, bringing in a play and telling the players what to do until the defense had been given enough time to get organized. For BYU to play San Jose State, that way is one thing. For it to play Utah, that way will be disastrous. It will be disastrous to play ND and BSU that way. We will cry. So will the team on the plane home.

    Their collective head needs to be in the game so that each down counts. No questioning looks, no mystery. "Here are our first 42 plays, gentlemen. This is the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of our opponent this week and these are the best 42 plays in order we will run. Memorize them." 

    That is what needs to happen and then go out in a no-huddle mind game where you attack your opponents' mental ability to adjust. You attack his senses. You run to the wide side of the field to avoid a sack because defenses get tired at 4,000 feet chasing you. Then you run the wide side to the other side because now they are huffing and puffing. Now you simply nod to your players with a smile because everyone knows what play they are going to run now; you see the defense with their hands on their hips and their chests heaving gasping for air. And you immediately line up and run—what play on the count of what? The team needs to know these things as well as they know their own telephone numbers.

    The draw play is run on what kind of defensive formation when we come to the line? This a pregame test question that every BYU player should know for every team that they play.

    ND runs the spread option 65 percent of the time when faced with what defense. Sun Tsu said, "know your enemy and know yourself; in 100 battles you will never be defeated." It seems BYU does not know the enemy, nor does it know itself and what to do when.

    They are losing the mind game.

    Solution: BYU needs to be better prepared with the philosophy of the game, what you do and when you do it. It needs to work as a team instinctively. Perhaps Coach Rose could come over and run them through some drills in which they started on the five-yard-line and went through 25 different plays and in time got to the other end of the field in concert like in a military drill.

Intensity: the Killer Instinct That Ignores the Score

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    One of the things I have seen BYU do over and over is the fourth-quarter run. It is kind of like when you go south of the border and drink the water and know you shouldn't have, but you have a plane to catch so you just hope, hold your legs together and run for it.

    Well, BYU seems to do that. Only it runs two times into the middle, sometimes three and then punt and hope the clock runs out. Now, if you are in bowl game and the opposing quarterback has been hurt and taken out of the game, and the score is 45-17 in your favor, and your quarterback has already won the Heisman Trophy and your other players have won the Davy O'Brien and Outland Trophy, etc., then sure, take pity, run into the line and kneel down if you like. Throw the value of the price of the ticket that the fans paid for into the air and tell them the first three quarters of football were enough of a show and they got their money's worth. 

    Other than that, there is a game to be played. When I go to a sporting event, I do not expect Tiger Woods to look back at the field and say, "Hey, I'm six strokes up, I will just blow this hole off."

    I don't expect, while watching a NASCAR race or standing by the sidelines at Le Mans and watching a car way ahead, for a driver to suddenly take his foot off the gas and sort of coast the last lap or two and just creep over the finish line ahead of the rest of the field.

    When I pay for that airfare, the hotel and the ticket, I expect the pit crew, driver and owner to go all out and do his best every minute, every mile, every car length, ever second's worth. Put your foot to the medal and hold it there until you see a checkered flag and no one in front of you. Keep it there, no matter if you see anyone in front of you or not.

    BYU needs to develop the winning instinct—how to put teams away and how to hold them down and put their foot on their neck (to use a Biblical reference from the Book of Joshua). It needs to take their lickings when it gets them, like with Utah, and come back the next week and administer one to someone else. And the next week. And the next. It needs the same drive and drill, the same tenaciousness that LSU or Alabama have.

    Until it gets the killer instinct in all hunters, it will always be the hunted trying to survive. You don't win games by scoring 25 points as your offensive goal while having as your defensive goal holding your opponent to 24. It works on weak teams, but it won't work with strong teams.

    The goal is: Hold them scoreless. And for the Cougars: Score each time they have the ball. The punter needs to be the man who never needs to clean his shoes.

    Solution: Better leadership

Training to Win: Playing to Win

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    I put Tim Tebow's picture here because he should be an inspiration to every BYU player and really somewhat of a reminder to every BYU coach of the level of commitment that it takes to be a success. 

    I'm not talking necessarily about Tebow. I am talking about those kids who don't have all the talent in the world but do have the drive, determination, will to win and willingness to put out whatever it takes to win. That is the kind of man that needs to be at BYU.  

    The preparation ethic that a player like Peyton Manning, Jimmer Fredette or Tebow brings to the field is the type of ethic BYU needs. You train to win, you prepare to win and you play to win. If you aren't going to be the best at it, the best you can be, and do your best each and every time, why are you there?

    Why did you charge me money to watch you, support you and travel with you if you aren't going to win and do your best. Do your best and lose, OK, I understand; I saw your effort. I watched you practice, and I saw your efforts in the weight room. When your roommates skipped class and went to Vegas, you put your ear plugs in and went to sleep after a power shake and a quick 20-minute lift on the weights. You studied the films of the other teams' games while your wife watched Alice in Wonderland with the baby on her lap.

    I saw your effort and don't expect you to win every game. I expect you to play like you are going to win every game and be prepared physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to win every game. 

    I saw you play, and you played every second of every down until the final gun went off and it was over. The score will speak for itself.

    BYU needs to make preparation as valuable as participation. Young men can go on missions—sure, no problem. They should come back as strapping warriors and not pansy petal-pushers. They should leave with their diet instructions and exercises to do each day that will keep them lean and fit and even build their bodies. Be it on a bike, push-ups alongside their bed, helping members move in and out of their homes and load moving trucks. Taking a jog, exercise, diet, mental/spiritual preparation. All part of "training to win."

    No player should come home out of shape. You can't be a good missionary and be out of shape. It is hard work, so harden up. The church provides enough money to eat right if you choose right. The fact that missionaries are leaving and coming home out of shape is just poor coaching, poor planning and poor preparation. You didn't prepare to win; you didn't train to win. 

    BYU can recruit all the 2-star players in the country. It doesn't need 5-star prima donnas or 4-star self-appointed football messiahs. What they need is the stripling warriors who will do what they have to do to make themselves better, bigger, stronger, smarter, faster and excel at what they have committed themselves to do for four years, all four. 

    If the players will do this, then on any given Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, BYU will be able to beat any team in the country. Anyone.

    Go get 'em, Cougs....