BYU football: Statistically, third down's a charm
PROVO - The most underused player on BYU's roster right now is field goal kicker Mitch Payne. Punter C.J. Santiago isn't seeing much action either.
And they couldn't be happier.
The Cougars lead the country in third-down conversion percentage, having picked up touchdowns or first downs on 19 of their 24 third-down chances in two games. That's a 79.2 percent conversion rate, two conversions better than Penn State.
"I think it talks about our poise as an offense," said tight end Dennis Pitta, who has picked up four of those first downs, all against Washington. "We are an experienced group, and everyone knows that. We are a confident group. We know that when we need to make a play, we will make it. We trust everyone on offense, and so with all the weapons that we have, sometimes it is easy to make a play on third down."
In their 28-27 win over Washington, the 18th-ranked Cougars were 12-for-14 on third down. And on one of the two situations they didn't convert, a third-and-8 from their 35 in the first quarter, the Cougars said they felt like a defensive pass interference penalty could have been called on a Washington defender for hitting receiver Michael Reed a split second before Max Hall's pass arrived.
They were 7-for-10 on third down against Northern Iowa.
"I think it is just a well-thought-out plan" by offensive coordinator Robert Anae, coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "As you watch us play, I don't think we are the most entertaining football team in the country. But I think we are methodical. I think we are execution-sound. I think it comes down to the plays that we run, and how they complement regardless of circumstance."
The Cougars have yet to attempt a field goal, and they've punted just five times - three against Northern Iowa and two against Washington.
Hall has not been sacked, and most of their penalties on offense have been 5-yarders, so they've rarely faced third-and-long. Of the 14 third-down situations they faced against Washington, only two were longer than 8 yards, and on the longest, third-and-14, Hall threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Austin Collie.
"It is just what you see out there," Collie said, pointing to BYU's practice field. "It is just execution, and working on it every day, and making that one of our goals. I think a lot of credit has to go to Max and what he is doing behind center."
The BYU offense will face a much tougher test this week against UCLA (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Versus), however. The Bruins (1-0) held No. 18 Tennessee to 5-for-17 on third down in their 27-24 overtime win on Labor Day.
BYU was just 5-for-14 on third down in the Las Vegas Bowl last year against UCLA.
"We are a different team than last year. We are more sound," said BYU lineman Travis Bright.