BYU’s new brand of football

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Devotional is Tuesday at 11 a.m., caffeine is not sold on campus, and the football team passes for huge amounts of yardage. Right?

One thing has changed this fall at BYU, and it has nothing to do with weekly devotionals or caffeinated beverages. A football program typically boasting one of the nation’s top air attacks embraces a new identity in 2013 — that of the fourth best rushing team in college football.

“Each week we’ve been developing into a tough team running the ball,” said offensive coordinator Robert Anae.

Quarterback Taysom Hill reaches the end zone on a 68-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of BYU's win against Texas. Photo by Sarah Hill.
Quarterback Taysom Hill reaches the end zone on a 68-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of BYU’s win against Texas. (Photo by Sarah Hill)

Some statistics help to put 2013’s rush-heavy offense into perspective. This year, 63 percent of BYU’s plays are runs. In the ten seasons prior to 2013, the highest proportion of running plays was 55 percent in 2010. During 2008 — the junior season of quarterback Max Hall (the latest prolific passer at BYU) — the team threw the ball 64 percent of the time.

When it comes to output, rushing makes up 63 percent of BYU’s offensive yardage in 2013. Going back to 2008, the Cougars passed for 70 percent of offensive yardage.

Individually, quarterback Taysom Hill leads BYU this season with 565 rushing yards. He is on pace for 1,836 rushing yards in 2013. By comparison, Doak Walker award winner Luke Staley rushed for 1,596 yards to break BYU’s single-season rushing record in 2001. Last year, the Cougars had only two running plays go for more than 50 yards. Hill personally has already recorded three runs of 50 plus.

“He’s one of the most explosive players in the country,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said after practice on Monday.

In preparation for the Oct. 4 matchup between BYU and Utah State, Utah State head coach Matt Wells explained what the Aggies must do in order to win.

“We’re going to have to find a way to stop the QB run game,” he said.

When’s the last time an opponent said that about the Cougars?

Perhaps Hill’s success has caused some to forget that sophomore running back Jamaal Williams, who suffered a concussion on Sept. 21, will be back for the Cougars against the Aggies. Williams is having a great season in his own right, averaging 126 rushing yards per game.

While long-tenured fans may be confused by BYU’s new identity, the team has propelled itself to 307.3 rushing yards per game. Oregon, Army and New Mexico are the only FBS teams rushing at a higher rate.

Maybe BYU will transition back into its typical pass-heavy self in the years to come. But with the recovery of Jamaal Williams and the ever-increasing confidence of Taysom Hill, one thing is certain — Wells won’t be the only coach trying to figure out how to stop the Cougars’ ground attack.

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