Eye on the Y: Jeff Grimes and his offensive staff borrowed from LSU, Boise State and even vintage BYU to craft the attack that overcame Arizona

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pass game coordinator Aaron Roderick is interviewed by the media as BYU hosts their eighth-annual football media day at the BYU-Broadcasting Building on Friday, June 22, 2018.

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After BYU’s second scrimmage of preseason football camp — a scrimmage that reporters were not allowed to watch — I asked quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick if there was a particular team’s offense that BYU’s was patterned after.

Roderick gave me one of those “I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you” responses, but it was obvious that, indeed, he and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes had looked at some specific offenses when drawing up a plan for the Cougars.

Turns out those teams are LSU (obviously, since Grimes was in the Bayou the past four seasons), 1970s and 1980s BYU and Boise State.

Yes, that Boise State — one of the Cougars’ biggest rivals.

The jet sweep play that BYU ran nine times in the 28-23 win over Arizona and feigned a bunch more times has been a staple of the Broncos’ offense for years. And it was used a lot by LSU last year under offensive coordinator Matt Canada and his running game coordinator, Grimes.

I asked Roderick about it Wednesday after practice as BYU continued preparations for Saturday’s 8:15 p.m MDT home opener against 1-0 California.

“Yeah, LSU is the obvious one,” he said. “But I’ve referenced Boise State quite a bit the past nine months while installing stuff. Of course, coach Grimes coached at [Boise State, in 2000] and brought some of it from there. Of course, he brought some of it from LSU and now we are kind of mixing it together with a lot of the old elements of the BYU passing game. We have blended multiple offenses together to find our own identity.”

The offense still doesn’t have an official name. But it is not easy to learn, Roderick said, and puts a lot of stress on the quarterback to make the right decisions, much like the run-pass option (RPO) plays that are popular around college football right now.

“It is option football, really,” Roderick said. “Every play he is making multiple decisions. He makes some presnap, and then once he gets the ball in his hands. So there is a lot to it. [Tanner Mangum] did a really good job managing it. I think he only got one of the jet sweeps wrong. We handed to Neil [Pau’u] one time and lost a yard or two. It wasn’t a huge loss, but other than that he was making the right calls all night. If we make yards on the jet sweep, it means that he understands the defense well enough to make the right decisions.”

Roderick said that the quarterback has to make the keep-or-hand-off decision most of the time, but there are times when he is supposed to hand it off no matter what.

“There is a lot to it,” he said.

For what it’s worth, Grimes told reporters Wednesday that the plays called against Arizona barely scratched the surface of the offense he installed with the help of Roderick, receivers coach Fesi Sitake, running backs coach AJ Steward and tight ends coach Steve Clark.

BYU running back Squally Canada (22) gets away from Arizona linebacker Colin Schooler during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Wilson handling it well

A good half-hour after practice had ended Wednesday, a handful of Cougars were still out on the practice field, throwing and catching the football and working on specific pass routes. One of those players was freshman Zach Wilson, the rookie quarterback who lost the starting job to Mangum the last week of preseason camp. it was a sure sign that Wilson is still fully engaged in the competition, despite getting the “disappointing news” a few weeks ago, he said.

I waited for Wilson to finish his extra work — tight end JJ Nwigwe and receiver Akile Davis also put in additional work — before asking him about just missing out on his chance to be the opening day starter.

“It has been good. I’ve been fine,” he said. “I understand the circumstances and I am just approaching game week as if I am the starter, just to make sure I am always ready. I am just supporting the team and I know coaches are going to make the best decisions for the team. I just go along with everything and make sure I am prepared and make sure I am pushing Tanner every day.

That’s what he would want from me, and I just come out with that mindset the other day.”

Roderick said Wilson has handled the setback like a pro.

“He has shown a lot of class,” Roderick said. “He didn’t show any signs of pouting. He practiced the same every day and he knows he is one play away from going in there. If Tanner gets his helmet knocked off, he is going in. So he’s done a good job of preparing. He still makes a ton of plays out here every day. He keeps Tanner on his toes.”

It is unfamiliar territory for Wilson, who can’t remember a football game in his entire life (when he was healthy) that he sat out the entire game. Even as a freshman at Jordan High (when Austin Kafentzis was the starting quarterback) he got to dress with the varsity and got in a few plays as a third-string receiver. He transferred to Corner Canyon for his sophomore year and beat out four other guys for the starting spot a few games into his 10th-grade season.

“It isn’t tough to stay engaged [on the sidelines],” he said. “I think the hardest part is you just want to play. You want to be out there on the field. I want to play, but I mean, going with that, I know that if I want to play, I have to take my chances seriously. And when the coaches say go in, and I get to take my limited reps in practice, I prove that I can do something and just stay solid with that.”

Wilson said he was far more nervous about playing as a freshman at Jordan than he was as a freshman at BYU.

“To be honest, I wasn’t nervous at all,” he said. “I thought it was a really cool moment, just because of the hype of the crowd, and having all those people there. I felt like me and the team had prepared really well for the game. Even though I wasn’t starting, I knew if I got my number called I was prepared and ready to play. And I thought it was just a cool experience to go out there and see everything.”

Rounding them up

In case you missed them, here are some of the stories, player profiles and columns the Tribune has brought to you this past week:

• September is an absolutely huge month in the head coaching career of BYU’s Kalani Sitake, with Power Five foes Arizona, Cal, Wisconsin and Washington all lined up to face the Cougars. Before Sitake’s team downed Arizona for the second time in three years, I wrote this piece on the importance of the month for Sitake’s future. Well, he’s off to a good start. Trib

• We’ve got a new way of presenting what were traditionally called “follows” after BYU and Utah football games this season. When the Utes and Cougars play on Saturdays, we will post “reviews” of the games on Mondays. The reviews will include a variety of sub-topics, including three takeaways from the game. Here’s our review of the Cougars’ opener. Trib

• One of my goals this season is to bring readers more in-depth stories on selected players, including more reporting on their backgrounds, upbringing and families. I’ve posted pieces on Squally Canada and Sione Takitaki in past weeks, and this week I wrote about senior defensive back Michael Shelton. The North Carolina native had a great game against Arizona. Trib

Views from elsewhere

• Sean Walker, the multi-faceted reporter for KSL.com, produced an interesting piece on BYU commit Jacob Conover when he headed south for the BYU-Arizona game. Walker stopped off in the Phoenix area and filed this report on Conover, a four-star quarterback who will serve an LDS Church mission before enrolling at BYU. KSL

• A former Logan resident, Arizona Star columnists Greg Hansen had some interesting takes on the state of BYU’s football program before the Cougars downed the Wildcats at Arizona Stadium in this column in the Arizona Daily Star. Star


BYU junior tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau on whether he was surprised that the new offense was effective against Arizona:

“I feel like a lot of people were doubting. Honestly, on our side of the ball, the offense, we weren’t doubting. You could tell going into the game that we had that confidence that we knew we were prepared. I honestly don’t think we were surprised. I think we were happy about the result. And there is a lot we can improve. But we knew and trusted the system enough that we knew what we could do.”

Also on campus

• BYU’s women’s volleyball team continues to roll. The No. 9-ranked Cougars captured their own Nike-BYU Invitational last weekend, knocking off No. 1-ranked Stanford along the way in a five-set thriller. The Cougars also defeated West Virginia and Wichita State. On Tuesday, senior outside hitter Roni Jones-Perry was named the Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week. She was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Week on Monday.

• BYU’s women’s soccer team routed Idaho State 10-0 on Saturday night at South Field while the football team was dealing with Arizona, but the schedule gets more difficult for the Cougars this week. They will take on Utah on Friday night in Salt Lake City. Utah is 1-2-1 this season but surely will be fired up to face a BYU program that owns a commanding 21-7-2 lead in the all-time series.

• It has been known for more than a month that former Gonzaga guard Jesse Wade was transferring to BYU, but on Tuesday the Cougars made it official. Coach Dave Rose announced that the 6-foot-1 Wade, who played locally at Davis High School, has joined the program. Wade played sparingly in his freshman season at Gonzaga after a church mission to France. At Davis, however, he was a prolific scorer. He averaged 26.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.7 steals per game for the Darts his senior season.