There is change in the wind at BYU.
It ain’t a hurricane ablowin', but it is more than a bit breezy.
The evolution there has three parts to it. They’re all connected, but distinct, too.
The first has to do with the offense. It is moving to where it once was, back in what LaVell Edwards used to refer to as the “glory years.” The Cougars have every intention to pass the ball more, more effectively. That’s not just what’s been happening this season. It’s the coaches’ plan for many seasons to come.
“All of us share a common chip on our shoulders,” says Aaron Roderick, BYU’s quarterbacks coach. “We want BYU to be known as a place where we throw the football, where we take care of the ball, but we open it up. We’re being more aggressive, to push the ball down the field.”
Kalani Sitake has done more than begrudgingly given his approval for that aggression, he’s insisted on it. “That’s what I want,” he says.
IDAHO STATE AT BYU
When • Saturday, 1 p.m.
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When Jeff Grimes came to BYU as offensive coordinator prior to last season, his lean was more toward power football. But he’s listened to Sitake and Roderick, opening his mind and altering his approach.
“He’s evolved,” says Roderick. “He’s easily adaptable. He’s got a combination of experience and willingness to change. We’re going to have fun playing and Jeff is all in on it.”
The Cougars do not want to get drunk on the forward pass, and they understand that playing defense and not being stupid are key elements to winning. But no longer will they double-clutch in tight situations, fearing that spinning the ball will hurt them.
They want to attack.
And that emphasis on aggression doesn’t stop there.
It’s extending to recruiting and coaching up young players, giving them the chance to play quickly, which is either effective strategy or an admission of guilt.
This year’s quarterbacks are Exhibit A of the former. Zach Wilson is a sophomore who played as a freshman. Jaren Hall is a freshman. Baylor Romney is a freshman. All of them have played — on account of injury, but it’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t matter who plays, who doesn’t.
Rarely has BYU had three quarterbacks, any of which could win games. Wilson beat Tennessee and USC. Romney beat Boise State. Hall and Romney beat Utah State. Romney beat Liberty. There have been mistakes made, bad decisions that led to defeat, but on the whole the QBs have been more of an asset than a liability.
“Everyone expected Zach to have a big year,” Roderick says, “but Baylor and Jaren have played well in his absence.”
Wilson and Hall were recruited to BYU, Hall’s father and brother having played there. Romney started out at Nevada, but during an LDS mission, a coaching change at the school led him to walk on at BYU. He was treated by coaches as a scholarship player because they knew he had talent.
Although those quarterbacks have varying skills, Roderick, in his mind’s eye, sees them as competent, comparable: “We’re building a pool of quarterbacks so we don’t have to make major changes when each comes into a game. They’re all smart, athletic, accurate and competitive. That’s by design. We’ll continue to recruit athleticism and accuracy.”
The quarterbacks aren’t the only key young’uns.
That’s the second thing. Thirteen different freshmen, the most in the country, have started for the Cougars this season, many of them in significant positions. Offensive lineman Blake Freeland is another example. Up until a few months ago, he had never played on the O-line. He was a quarterback in high school. BYU thought about putting him at defensive end or tight end. His first start came against Boise State, and he’s balled out since.
“The guy’s an animal,” Sitake says, adding: “We have some really good freshmen who have stepped up and earned the right to be on the field, and some others have been forced to be on the field.”
Sitake says he takes pride in developing raw material — “late bloomers” — who were overlooked in high school. The Cougars have specialized in that. “Development usually works out pretty well for us,” he says.
The third change: BYU’s coaching staff has solidified. There have been errors, dumb ones, made at times. The most recent blunder was the dubious fourth-and-2 play call against Liberty, where the Cougars lined up for a fake field goal, with kicker Jake Oldroyd taking a pitch and promptly getting tackled.
But there also have been numerous examples of coaching excellence, such as Fesi Sitake’s work with the receivers, and others, too, what with the Cougars absorbing their many injuries.
Now sitting at 5-4, BYU has two absolute strolls through the woods coming up, with Idaho State and UMass providing generous picnic baskets filled with easy victory. There is talk of Wilson returning, but plainly said, they could beat the Bengals and the Minutemen over the next couple of Saturdays with D-tackle Khyiris Tonga at quarterback.
That means the Cougars are staring at seven regular-season wins, for sure, and eight if they beat San Diego State on the road. A bowl win in Hawaii jacks that total to a number few thought possible with the schedule it faced. Curious it is that the Cougars were good enough to down Tennessee on the road and USC at home, and bad enough to lose to Toledo and USF.
But that better-than-imagined record will put Sitake in prime position for a contract extension, although the length of it will be interesting to note. With the schedule BYU faces next season — including at Utah, Michigan State, at Arizona State, at Minnesota, Utah State, Missouri, Houston, at Boise State, San Diego State, at Stanford — it’s easy for this season’s advances to be slammed into reverse.
But that’s for then. This is for now.
And Sitake seems fairly pleased, if not completely satisfied.
Roderick says he should be: “We’re starting to come together. We’ve got something good going here. It’s starting to roll. The players know about Kalani’s contract status. They love him and are playing hard for him.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.