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BYU’s Offense Has Let Them Down In Their Biggest Games

KSL Sports Illustration (Hema Heimuli Jr.)

Editor’s note: Second of a three-part series exploring the issues with BYU football’s offense in the last decade.

PROVO, Utah – When BYU decided to move forward as an FBS Independent, it gave them the opportunity to prove they belong in a Power 5 conference. Over the last decade, however, their offense has struggled to prove they belong.

Athletic Director Tom Holmoe began scheduling more Power 5/BCS programs. They were intended as a significant piece to the Cougars’ independent life. Despite some big wins over Texas, Wisconsin, USC, Nebraska and others, the’ve had many more high-profile losses.

At this point, the only thing that the Cougars can control in their path towards maybe – and that’s a big maybe – obtaining Power 5 status, is to win games against college football’s elite.

The Cougars have won their fair share of games against Power 5 powers, but more times than not, the offense hasn’t been the reason for said victories.

Took a deeper dive into BYU’s performances on offense against Power 5 teams and versus rivals Utah State and Boise State dating back to 2010.

The results will show why the Cougars have only had one season since 2010 with 10 wins or more. Below is BYU’s points per game totals against Power 5 opponents dating back to 2010.

2010

The final year of being a member of the Mountain West Conference took place in 2010, one year after a four-year stretch that produced 43 wins. This schedule highlights how few opportunities being in the MWC provided BYU against P5/BCS opponents at the time. Only two contests against teams from college football’s power structure.

What is interesting from this schedule is that over the last 10 seasons, 2010 is considered by the strength of scheduling metrics as the hardest schedule the Cougars have faced since 2010. This schedule was ranked 53rd.

Next to 2017, the statistical output from these four games is why then head coach Bronco Mendenhall asked Robert Anae to reapply for his offensive coordinator job, to which he wasn’t retained.

  • Washington | 23 points – 408 yards – 2 offensive TDs
  • at Florida State | 10 points – 191 yards – 1 TD
  • at Utah State | 16 points – 335 yards – 2 TD
  • at Utah | 16 points – 293 yards – 1 TD

Averages against Power 5/BCS: 16.5 points, 299.5 yards, 1.5 TDs per game (3 total TDs)

Averages including Utah/USU rivalry games: 16.2 points, 306.7 yards, 1.5 TDs per game (6 total TDs)

Record vs. Power 5/BCS: 1-1 | Record vs. P5/BCS & Rivals: 1-3

2011

The first year of independence was met with optimism and excitement by BYU fans everywhere as the Cougars intended to bring back the old LaVell Edwards west coast attack of the 80s back to Provo with Brandon Doman as the offensive coordinator. That wasn’t close to happening, especially against the Power 5s on the schedule.

The only Power 5/BCS team BYU’s west coast attack had success against was Oregon State. The Beavers finished 3-9 that season.

BYU averaged 19.5 points per game against Power 5/BCS teams in year one of independence and because of the little scoring, it led to five-star quarterback recruit Jake Heaps eventually being benched.

This 2011 squad was still able to carve out 10 wins because of a heavy dosage of teams from the WAC on the schedule. The 2011 slate was considered one of the easiest in the country, finishing with the 96th strength of schedule ranking.

  • at Ole Miss | 14 points – 316 yards – 1 TD
  • at Texas | 16 points – 235 yards – 1 TD
  • Utah | 10 points – 354 yards – 1 TD
  • at Oregon State | 38 points – 499 yards – 5 TDs
  • Utah State | 27 points – 451 yards – 3 TDs

Averages against Power 5s (BCS): 19.5 points, 351 yards, 2 TDs per game (8 total TDs)

Averages including USU rivalry game: 21 points, 371 yards, 2.2 TDs per game (11 total TDs)

Record vs. Power 5/BCS: 2-2 | Record vs. P5/BCS & Rivals: 3-2

2012

Injured quarterbacks and a lack of identity hurt BYU’s offense in 2012. A team that had the makings to produce more than the 8-5 record they ended up with. Especially after how they started the season with a 30-point performance in front of a nationally-televised ESPN audience on the opening Thursday night of the college football season.

The challenges of tougher independent schedules started to show itself as BYU faced five Power Five/BCS teams in 2012. But the Cougars averaged 26 points per game, which was two points higher than the threshold of 24 points that former head coach Bronco Mendenhall had always shot for in a given game.

But it was performances against rivals Boise State and Utah State that put offensive coordinator Brandon Doman on the hot seat. BYU scored a total of 12 points in games against the Broncos and Aggies and somehow split those games with a 1-1 record.

  • Washington State | 30 points – 426 yds – 3 TDs
  • at Utah | 21 points – 312 yards – 3 TDs
  • Oregon State | 24 points – 386 yards – 3 TDs
  • at Notre Dame | 14 points – 243 yards – 2 TDs
  • at Georgia Tech | 41 points – 411 yards – 5 TDs
  • at Boise State | 6 points – 200 yards – 1 TD
  • Utah State | 6 points – 380 yards – 1 TD

Averages against Power Fives (BCS): 26 points, 355.6 yards, 3.2 TDs per game (16 total TDs)

Averages including USU/Boise rivalry games: 20.2 points, 336.8 yards, 2.5 TDs per game (18 total TDs)

Record vs Power Five/BCS: 2-3 | Record vs P5/BCS & Rivals: 3-4


MORE BYU FOOTBALL


2013

The Go Fast, Go Hard offense brought a mixed bag of results, but there were some memorable results including a 679-yard outing against the Texas Longhorns for a 40-21 victory.

Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams were two of the top rushers in the country this season and they did it against seven Power Five/BCS opponents on this schedule. 2013’s strength of schedule ranking of 62nd is the lowest in the independent era for a completed season.

Where’s BYU’s Go Fast, Go Hard attack failed was in the month of November against Wisconsin and Notre Dame. BYU was in the mix for at-large consideration to an At-large BCS bowl and the Cougars laid an egg in Madison producing only 17 points and 370 yards.

All five of BYU’s losses this season were against Power Five opponents. One has to wonder, would 2013 have ended up as a memorable season in the same breath as a 2006 or 2007 season had the Cougars been in a conference like the Mountain West?

  • at Virginia | 16 points – 362 yards – 2 TDs
  • Texas | 40 points – 679 yards – 4 TDs
  • Utah | 13 points – 443 yards – 1 TD
  • Georgia Tech | 38 points – 433 yards – 4 TDs
  • at Wisconsin | 17 points – 370 yards – 2 TDs
  • at Notre Dame | 13 points – 415 yards – 1 TD
  • vs Washington | 16 points – 473 yards – 1 TD
  • Boise State | 37 points – 568 yards – 4 TD
  • at Utah State | 31 points – 437 yards – 3 TD

Averages against Power Fives (BCS): 21.8 points, 516.8 yards, 2.1 TDs per game (15 total TDs)

Averages including USU/Boise rivalry games: 24.5 points, 513.6 yards, 2.4 TDs per game (22 total TDs)

Record vs Power Five/BCS: 2-5 | Record vs P5/BCS & Rivals: 4-5

2014

The outlier season in the past decade. BYU’s offense delivered huge numbers against Power Five opponents in 2014, and they did it with two different quarterbacks. Taysom Hill led BYU to wins over Texas and Virginia putting up 41 points in each of those games. Then in the regular-season finale, backup quarterback Christian Stewart tossed for 433 yards against the Cal Golden Bears that featured Jared Goff on the opposing side.

It’s the only season BYU has gone undefeated against Power Five opponents since 2010. None of those Power Five programs played in bowl games that season.

Taysom’s injury derailed BYU’s chances of possibly running the table with an undefeated season. The Cougars had disappointing performances against Utah State and Boise State in their only rivalry games of the season.

  • at Texas | 41 points – 429 yards – 5 TDs
  • Virginia | 41 points – 332 yards – 4 TDs
  • at Cal | 42 points – 540 yards – 6 TDs
  • at Boise State | 30 points – 322 yards – 3 TDs
  • Utah State | 20 points – 425 yards – 2 TDs

Averages against Power Fives: 41.3 points, 433.6 yards, 5 TDs per game (15 total TDs)

Averages including USU/Boise rivalry games: 34.8 points, 409.6 yards, 4 TDs per game (20 total TDs)

Record vs Power Five: 3-0 | Record vs P5 & Rivals: 3-2

2015

BYU’s offensive attack was slowing down a touch heading into Robert Anae’s third and final year as offensive coordinator, but they still wanted tempo with Taysom Hill at QB. Hill was straight dealin’ against Nebraska in the season-opener before suffering a lisfranc that ended his third season in four years.

Redshirt freshman Tanner Mangum stepped in at quarterback months after serving a mission in Chile and led BYU to memorable wins that featured hail marys over Nebraska and Boise State to start the season 2-0.

The 2015 schedule featured a grueling travel slate as all the Cougars game against Power Fives were away from Provo along with a trip to the Cache Valley for the regular-season finale against the Aggies.

BYU was building a lot of momentum nationally, even after a one-point loss to No. 10 UCLA, but the Cougars were immediately erased from the national conversation after getting shutout against Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan team.

Then performances against Missouri and Utah in the bowl game were setbacks from where the season once started.

  • at Nebraska | 33 points – 511 yards – 4 TDs
  • at UCLA | 23 points – 405 yards – 2 TDs
  • at Michigan | 0 points – 105 yards – 0 TD
  • at Missouri | 16 points – 290 yards – 2 TDs
  • vs Utah | 28 points – 386 yards – 4 TDs
  • Boise State | 35 points – 381 yards – 4 TDs
  • at Utah State | 51 points – 358 yards – 6 TDs

Averages against Power Fives: 20 points, 339.4 yards, 2.4 TDs per game (12 total TDs)

Averages including USU/Boise rivalry games: 26.5 points, 348 yards, 3.1 TDs per game (22 total TDs)

Record vs Power Five: 1-4 | Record vs P5 & Rivals: 3-4

2016

The Kalani Sitake era began with a schedule that featured six Power Five opponents, the most since 2013. Lucky for Sitake and offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, quarterback Taysom Hill turned down graduate transfer offers from the likes of Virginia, Michigan, and Stanford to come back to BYU.

With Hill back in the saddle at QB, BYU’s total yard production saw an uptick compared to the 2015 season versus Power Five opposition. In 2016, BYU averaged 374.8 yards per game. Still, a far cry from the 516.8 BYU was averaging in Hill’s lone healthy season as the Cougars quarterback three years prior in 2013.

Games against rival Utah and UCLA made many wonder if the Detmer needed to turn up the dial on the tempo with Hill running the offense. But ultimately was no one was complaining much at season’s end after BYU pulled off three victories against Power Five teams.

  • vs Arizona | 18 points – 415 yards – 2 TD
  • at Utah | 19 points – 331 yards – 2 TD
  • UCLA | 14 points – 273 yards – 2 TD
  • vs West Virginia | 32 points – 521 yards – 4TD
  • at Michigan State | 31 points – 398 yards – 4 TD
  • Mississippi State | 28 points (2OT) – 311 yards – 4 TD
  • at Boise State | 27 points – 322 yards – 1 TD
  • Utah State | 28 points – 355 yards – 3 TD

Averages against Power Fives: 23.6 points, 374.8 yards, 3 TDs per game (18 total TDs)

Averages including USU/Boise rivalry games: 24.6 points, 365.7 yards, 2.75 TDs per game (22 total TDs)

Record vs Power Five: 3-3 | Record vs P5 & Rivals: 4-4

2017

I’ll just let the numbers try to explain the horror BYU fans felt watching this team’s offense. These numbers led to the dismissal of offensive coordinator and BYU legend Ty Detmer.

The discouraging part for everyone around BYU football that season was that the Cougars were not competitive in any of these games except the rivalry matchup in Logan against Utah State. But that game saw Beau Hoge suffer a concussion and Detmer’s nephew Koy Detmer Jr. had to get thrown into the game.

7.2 points per game … woof!

  • vs LSU | 0 points – 97 yards – 0 TD
  • Utah | 13 points – 233 yards – 2 TDs
  • Wisconsin | 6 points – 192 yards – 0 TD
  • at Mississippi State | 10 points – 176 yards – 1 TD
  • Boise State | 7 points – 238 yards – 1 TD
  • at Utah State | 24 points – 396 yards – 2 TD

Averages against Power Fives: 7.2 points, 174.5 yards, 0.75 TDs per game (3 total TDs)

Averages including USU/Boise rivalry games: 10 points, 222 yards, 1 TD per game (6 total TDs)

Record vs Power Five: 0-4 | Record vs P5 & Rivals: 0-6

2018

After 2017’s debacle, the confidence of the BYU football program was shaken to the core. Sitake hired Jeff Grimes away from LSU to restore respectability and produce results for a school that prides itself on a high level of play on offense.

BYU had a quarterback battle and opted to go with senior Tanner Mangum after a strong push from true freshman Zach Wilson. Grimes’ focus was ball security in fall camp and the Cougars delivered some big upset wins in two of the first three weeks of the season knocking off Arizona and No. 6 Wisconsin in true road environments.

Two weeks later, BYU’s offense had a “2017 moment” on the road at nationally-ranked Washington by being held to 164 yards of offense and only producing seven points.

Zach Wilson took over as the starter after BYU was blown out against Utah State. Wilson started in the Cougars games against Utah and Boise State showing well in both games, but ultimately coming up on the losing end of those contests.

  • at Arizona | 28 points – 392 yards – 4 TDs
  • Cal | 18 points – 287 yards – 1 TD
  • at Wisconsin | 24 points – 311 yards – 3 TDs
  • at Washington | 7 points – 164 yards – 1 TD
  • at Utah | 27 points – 357 yards – 4 TDs
  • Utah State | 20 points – 361 yards – 3 TDs
  • at Boise State | 16 points – 388 yards – 1 TD

Averages against Power Fives: 20.8 points, 302.2 yards, 2.6 TDs per game (13 total TDs)

Averages including USU/Boise rivalry games: 20 points, 322.8, 2.42 TDs per game (17 total TDs)

Record vs Power Five: 2-3 | Record vs P5 & Rivals: 2-5

2019

After a dud of performance on the opening night against the rival Utes, BYU’s offense has shown signs of progress in every game since including a 430-yard output in an overtime win over USC. It was the Cougars’ first 400-yard game against a Power Five opponent since West Virginia in 2016. That was something to build on and showed progress in the program. But then a setback against Washington where BYU could only muster up 19 points left people thinking this is a typical inconsistent BYU team.

Running back Ty’Son Williams was huge in these games against Power Five competition. When BYU takes on Boise State and Utah State in the coming weeks, it will be critical for BYU to have a balanced attack to take some of the stress off of redshirt freshman Jaren Hall.

The jury is still out on how good BYU’s offense can become. But right now it’s fair to say they are inconsistent and hard to project week-in and week-out. The nine touchdowns against P5’s is the lowest output since 2011.

  • Utah | 12 points – 300 yards – 1 TDs
  • Tennessee | 29 points (2OT) – 339 yards – 3 TDs
  • USC | 30 (OT) – 430 yards – 3 TDs
  • Washington | 19 points – 356 yards – 2 TDs

Averages against Power Fives: 22.5 points, 356.2 yards, 2.25 TDs per game (9 total TDs)

PART THREE coming up: The impact recruiting has had on BYU’s offense.

What is wrong with BYU’s offense? Three-part feature

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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