If the problem with the running game was a mystery for the last two weeks, then the coaching staff solved it by boiling the issue down to the basics.
They looked at last year’s team — which ran the ball at will — and found what changed. They saw the offensive line basically stayed intact.
“This is the same offensive line, basically the same team, that ran the heck out of the ball last year,” BYU’s offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said.
It was the running backs that changed from year to year.
So, with the same fundamental logic that might be applied to a game of Clue, BYU made the move. Keep the offensive line. Switch the running backs.
The only difference: BYU turned to its third-string back to take the bulk of the work. Starter Chris Brooks sat on the sidelines for most of the night, playing just 10 snaps. Second-string back Lopini Katoa had just five carries.
“You can only blame the O-line for so long,” head coach Kalani Sitake remarked after the game.
The question is, was it really that simple?
The numbers say yes. The run blocking from the offensive line wasn’t markedly better, according to Pro Football Focus. But Miles Davis was much more efficient at finding holes.
Davis — with 131 yards on 13 carries — graded out at 81.1. For reference, Brooks was grading below 60, per PFF, for the last two games.
I thought it was interesting, after the game, Davis remarked how well the offensive line opened holes for him. I know every running back likes to credit the offensive line when they have a big game, but this felt sincere. This wasn’t some herculean performance from Davis where he was breaking tackles on his own. He had a couple tough runs through arm tackles. But for the most part, ran through open holes and used his speed to finish plays.
It makes you wonder, were those holes always there and Brooks just couldn’t find them? And is it possible that Davis might be a better fit for the offense right now?
It will be telling to see if the coaching staff gives Brooks another meaningful try. He didn’t get much of an opportunity against Wyoming. The snap distribution went to Katoa (31 snaps), Davis (27) and Brooks (10).
But, for now, BYU might have solved its biggest problem with its simplest solution.
Jaren Hall’s performance
The one thing that stuck out about Jaren Hall’s 337-yard performance wasn’t necessarily the gaudy numbers — although they were something to marvel at. His passer rating was 211. It doesn’t get much more efficient and dynamic than that.
But in the fourth quarter, as the offense was humming, Hall completed his sixth pass of the night for 15 yards or more. He was taking shots down field, and those deep shots accounted for 211 yards.
That is what we have been waiting for out of Hall. He is very much in command of this offense. But in terms of explosive plays, and driving the ball down the field, it hasn’t been there. It forces BYU to have long drives, which is tougher against good teams.
I don’t put that on Hall necessarily. He’s been working with no running game and a revolving door at receiver. But with the running game finally working this week, we saw the explosiveness.
To do that consistently, Hall might need some help from the rest of the offense. But he proved he could do it. And he proved that BYU’s offensive is much better for it when he is making those throws vertically down the field..
Moot point for the defense
The defense started the night by getting gashed on the ground. So much so that I wrote after the first drive it looked like nothing had changed in the run defense.
But the front seven settled in and ended up holding Wyoming to just 3.6 yards per carry. It was a respectable performance.
To me, though, this week was a moot point on the defense — more needs to be seen. The early success Wyoming had on the ground was troubling. BYU gave up 93 yards rushing in the first 17 minutes of the game. The Cowboys were averaging just under 6 yards per carry at that point.
The adjustments were solid, as Wyoming ended with 124 yards on the ground. But a lot of it was also circumstance. It had to throw the ball more in the second half as BYU extended its lead to three scores.
So I think it is fair to say this game wasn’t concerning for the defense but it also wasn’t a sign of progress.
Let’s just get some more data.
Chase Roberts has been BYU’s most targeted receiver in the first quarter of the season, even after he played sparingly against Wyoming. We spoke to him and his high school coach about how the redshirt freshman is filling into his role.
Miles Davis is stepping up to the moment. It has involved a long process, and some hot yoga, to get there.
We also spoke with Roderick last week to get his take on Dallin Holker leaving the program. Here is his perspective on the surprise of the situation.