If the BYU offense is a plane ride, most of the trip is smooth flying in 2013. Jamaal Williams bounds up the middle for seven yards. You may now use personal electronics. Cody Hoffman makes a 17-yard catch on a deep out. You may get up and use the restroom. Taysom Hill keeps it for 15 yards. We’re in our final descent and it is a beautiful day in our destination city.
And then the turbulence hits. After a faultless flight so far, the landing is suddenly in question.
In BYU’s four losses this season, the problem hasn’t been an inability to move the ball up and down the field. The Cougars average 496 yards of offense per game–good for fourteenth in the nation. But when the Cougars get inside the 20-yard line, the “blue zone,” the explosive offense unravels.
In most recent memory, the Cougars visited the red zone four times against Notre Dame but came away with only one touchdown and 13 points.
“Our emphasis right now is on the blue zone offense,” Taysom Hill said. “If we would’ve been better there on Saturday, we would’ve had a really good chance at winning that game.”
The Cougars experience crash-landings more often than not when the endzone is in sight, having claimed touchdowns on only 24 of their 51 trips to the blue zone this season. In comparison, unbeatens Florida State, Ohio State and Alabama have visited the red zone 61, 54, and 44 times respectfully (not much difference from the Cougars). Yet the three kings of FBS football this season score touchdowns 79 percent, 83 percent and 70 percent of the time when the landing strip is in sight.
At 47 percent, BYU is the only team in the nation to boast a winning record despite scoring touchdowns less than 50 percent of the time the team gets within 20 yards of the endzone.
Last year, the Cougars experienced fruitless drives due at least in part to abhorrent field goal kicking. This year, however, Justin Sorensen has been nearly automatic–drilling the ball through the uprights on 18 of 22 attempts. But when the team can sniff the goal line, it wants to score six.
“Whether we get to the blue zone three, four, or five times; we need to translate that into more points,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
As a young pilot with two years of eligibility left, Hill must work on his landings. For the BYU football program, it could mean a return to prominence.