For a team that wanted to be the best pass-efficient team in the country, the BYU football team sure is running the ball a lot and running it well.
Although the passing game hasn’t amounted to everything the Cougars were hoping for at the beginning of the season, the running game has developed into the strength of the team, led by young faces who weren’t expected to contribute much to the season.
During the 2012 football media day held in June, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman talked about his goals for the offensive side of the ball and mentioned many high aspirations for his passing offense.
“Our goal is to be the number-one most efficient passing team in the country,” Doman said. “That’s 35 passes a game, 23 or 24 completions, 300 yards a game, three-to-one touchdown to interception ratio or better every game.”
Obviously, if the team can’t adapt to changes which are inflicted by various sources, the team won’t play well, and the Cougars have had to adapt and adjust their offensive game plan throughout the season. Adversity in the passing game has surfaced through an onslaught of untimely injuries to the quarterbacks and the offensive line, along with a touchdown-to-interception ratio that is skewed towards turnovers rather than touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Riley Nelson sat out two games and part of another with a back injury, and freshman backup Taysom Hill was lost for the year with a knee injury against Utah State. Additionally, BYU has lost six offensive linemen to injuries this year, some of whom are still trying to return for more action later this season.
“We felt really good about the depth at offensive line going into the fall,” Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “We plug in the next player as best we can and keep going.”
The Cougars have run the ball 362 times this season, compared to 311 passes. The emphasis on running has resulted in more touchdowns on the ground rather than through the air, with 17 visits to the end zone on the ground, and just 14 via air. Turnovers have also been an issue, as 13 turnovers have come as BYU has attempted to throw it, while just four turnovers have come on fumbles. And three of those fumbles were lost by someone other than a running back.
Even with the rushing emphasis, many would think the main contributor would be junior Michael Alisa. A broken arm against Hawaii has kept him out of action, giving way to 17-year-old true freshman Jamaal Williams, who has put the Cougar offense on his back to the tune of eight touchdowns on the ground, one more through the air, and a 4.8 yards per carry average.
“(Williams) has this great vision, and he’s a great athlete,” Mendenhall said after a win earlier this season. “So Jamaal made the most of his opportunity.”
In addition to Williams, sophomore Paul Lasike has earned some critical carries, and senior David Foote and sophomore Iona Pritchard have run the ball effectively. Junior everything-man JD Falslev has also carried the ball well in various situations, including some big gains against Georgia Tech on Saturday.
The change of offensive philosophy the Cougars have undergone this year has been unexpected but has yielded some pleasant surprises, and the Cougars may attempt to run their way to the final three wins of the season.