BYU’s O-line wants to learn from Baylor struggles because No. 25 Oregon poses a similar threat

BYU rushed for just 83 yards against Baylor on 2.5 yards a carry.

(Jason Behnken | AP) BYU center Connor Pay (70) during an NCAA college football game against South Florida Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.

BYU offensive lineman Connor Pay spent the last 36 hours like he always does after a big game.

He spent the night celebrating BYU’s biggest win in years and got a late start the next morning. But by midday on Sunday, he was sitting down in his apartment, watching film of Oregon’s front seven.

“We have been through this before,” Pay said of how the team responds after an emotional victory. “After the Utah game last year, a really emotional win, we had to refocus for Arizona State.

“It is just business as usual.”

For Pay and the offensive line, there may be some mixed emotions in the Cougars’ win over No. 9 Baylor. While the BYU defense put together a complete showing, and a new wide receiving threat emerged, the offensive line was the Cougars’ one glaring weakness on Saturday.

If anything, BYU won in spite of rushing for just 83 yards and Jaren Hall being under duress for portions of the night.

So Pay said the next five days will be a crash course in making adjustments ahead of No. 25 Oregon to prepare for an equally daunting defense.

“We obviously didn’t do as good of a job as we could have in the run game,” Pay said. “That’s our responsibility. … We rushed for 83 yards against Baylor and that is not very good at all. There is so much to improve upon.”

BYU’s offensive line was expected to be the strong suit of the program this year. The group features eight guys who started games against Power Five programs and added five-star lineman Kingsley Suamataia. Coming into the season, BYU believed it was better equipped to run the ball against Power Five teams like Baylor.

But in its first major test of the season, the offensive line didn’t fare that much better. In 2021, running back Tyler Allgeier rushed for just 33 yards against Baylor’s defense. This year, starter Chris Brooks went for only 31 yards on 13 carries. As a team, the Cougars averaged 2.5 yards per carry.

What’s more, BYU’s offensive line didn’t win many isolated battles. Brooks’ longest run was 6 yards. Lopini Katoa, who scored the game-winning touchdown in double overtime, logged his longest run at 7 yards. The best running offense might have been Hall scrambling out of the pocket in the two-minute drill.

“I think it was a difficult matchup. Baylor did some unique things up front,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said when asked why the offensive line struggled. “But if we are going to have success running the ball, then we need to do better. I’d imagine that Oregon is going to watch the film and want to do some things similar.”

Oregon presents a similar problem in the front seven to Baylor.

Oregon defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi likes to use the simulated pressure scheme — using a linebacker or safety to rush the passer while a down lineman drops back into coverage to confuse an offense — that Baylor coach Dave Aranda is known for. Lupoi learned the scheme during his five years under Nick Saban at Alabama.

“Very similar,” Sitake said. “Stylistically they are doing a lot of things similar and I think they are using their talent really well.”

Pay said much of the changes will come from having better combination blocks to open up more holes for Brooks and Katoa. The line is also starting to tighten its rotation. The Cougars used eight linemen against South Florida. Against Baylor, BYU only played six.

A priority for BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick is getting Brooks up to 20 carries per game. That is when, he said, the offense is most dynamic, able to sustain long drives and free up Hall in play-action situations.

But Brooks was held to 13 carries last game, simply because the running game wasn’t working.

Pay knows that needs to change. And against Oregon, a running game might be the difference between BYU going 3-0 or quickly dropping out of the national conversation.

“It is going to be another challenge this week to run the football,” Pay said. “We are going to have to be really consistent. ... Recognition is great, but the second something goes wrong, everyone is going to turn on you. So we have to stay focused.”