What do we actually know about this BYU offense?
Okay, we need to have a conversation about this BYU offense. One moment they look like they’ve never ran a forward pass play in their life, and the next they’re going 80 yards in 30 seconds to close out the half.
At a glance, one might think that the Cougars have a pretty consistent offense. After all, they’ve scored at least 35 points in three out of four games, two of those against Power Five defenses.
If you dig deeper into the box score you start to ask questions like: How on earth have they scored that many points? And, has there been some kind of mistake with the scorekeeping?
BYU scored 35 points tonight against a Cincinnati defense that offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick called, “The best defense we’ll face all year.” Let’s look closely at some of the stats.
In the first half, Roderick’s claim seemed spot-on. The Cougars were struggling late in the half, gaining only 38 yards and running just 17 plays with 44 seconds left in the half. BYU was down only three.
Let me repeat all that. BYU had 38 yards. They ran just 17 plays. Cincinnati had 250 yards and had run 47 plays. Despite all that disparity and one of the most egregious offensive performances Lavell Edwards Stadium had ever seen, the Cougars found themselves down just three points.
In the 44 seconds that were left, quarterback Kedon Slovis tore apart the Bearcat defense with a three play, 82 yard, 30 second drive to take a four point lead into the half. Prior to that drive he had just two total passing yards.
Coming out of the half the Cougars picked up right where they left off, scoring touchdowns on three out of their next four drives as Slovis continued to throw dimes. Even the run game got involved with a 29 yard touchdown run from LJ Martin.
Even though BYU scored 35 and won the game, the stats tell a different story. The offense ended up with 225 passing yard and 70 rushing yards. The Cougars ran 31 less plays than the Bearcats and had 11 less minutes of possession.
When asked about his teams’s performance, coach Kalani Sitake answered, “Am I happy about our guys winning? Of course. Am I happy about how we did it? No.”
BYU had a similar outcome two weeks ago at Arkansas. In that game the Cougars had just 281 total yards of offense, ran 17 less plays than the Razorbacks, and came away with 38 points and a win in SEC territory. Make it make sense.
No stat drives home this point quite like this one: BYU is 4-0 in their last four games where they gain less than 300 total yards on offense.
So what is it about this offense that makes fans question their love for the game, yet is 4-1 to start their inaugural season in a power five conference? How do they make the box score tell one story, but the score reflect a different one?
A lot of credit has to go to defense and special teams. In Cincinnati’s first drive Jakob Robinson jumped a route and grabbed the Cougars an early lead with a pick-six. The punt unit also recovered a crucial muffed punt in the fourth quarter to give the offense a fresh set of downs in the redzone.
Whether fans like it or not, this team is has a different identity than what they are used to seeing. Rather than flashy, high-powered offense, this squad wins games with gritty, grind it out defense that creates opportunities.
The run game is still an issue for the Cougars despite improvement tonight. 66 yards on the ground typically isn’t enough to get it done, but this offense finds a way. They have relied heavily upon their fifth-year quarterback to carry them through.
When asked about the identity of the offense, receiver Chase Roberts said, “Dealing with adversity … We’re resilient and I think we have confidence in our quarterback. It all starts with him.”
The truth is, having a savvy and experienced quarterback grants you the ability to win ugly in the box score. Slovis hasn’t just put up impressive numbers, he’s captained an offense that’s still figuring out what’s going on five games in, and won along the way.
Moving forward, BYU will need to figure out who they are on offense and produce. After all, they play in a league notorious for scoring points, and as the Cougars get deeper into conference play they will need something to lean on.
As for Sitake, he is focused on what’s important to win games.
“I don’t really care about how the points get up on the scoreboard” he said. “I just want them up there.”