Not only will it be unusual for BYU to implement a two-quarterback system in Saturday's season-opener with the Washington Huskies, it will underscore just how remarkable it is that the Cougars have needed only one quarterback for each of the last five seasons.
In 2005 and 2006, John Beck started 24 of 25 games, missing only the 2006 Utah State contest due to injury. From 2007 through 2009, Max Hall started all 39 games he played, missing only a few plays in the 2007 outing at Wyoming due to a shoulder separation. Not counting end-of-game backup snaps, BYU has played only two quarterbacks over 63 of its last 64 games; now the Cougars will employ two quarterbacks in every game, for the foreseeable future.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall knows that his team has been fortunate to enjoy consistently good health at the quarterback spot but says it's more than luck. "It speaks to our schemes. Seldom does the opponent have a clear shot at the quarterback before the ball is delivered. Usually the only time our quarterbacks get hit is when they don't read the play out correctly. The ball is gone too fast."
The schemes assist pocket passers like John Beck and Max Hall and now Jake Heaps. However, as a running QB, co-signal-caller Riley Nelson will likely be taking a lot of "clear shots." Mendenhall says "there is risk, it has to be acknowledged, but if it's a strength, it has to be highlighted. I feel a lot better doing it with two quarterbacks we're confident in. That doesn't reduce the risk for (Nelson), but it does reduce the risk for the team."
In five seasons under Mendenhall and play-caller Robert Anae, the BYU attack has been one of the most potent in the country, finishing in the FBS Scoring Offense top 25 four times and in the top 15 twice. However, it has historically taken the Cougars a little while to get going, and if BYU comes out hot against the Huskies, it will be the exception and not the rule.
Mendenhall's teams have opened the season against FBS teams four times in five seasons; the most points BYU has scored in those four season openers is 20, in a 2007 home win over Arizona. In 2005, BYU managed only a field goal in a 20-3 home loss to Boston College. In 2006, BYU opened at Arizona and lost 16-13. In 2009, BYU played powerhouse Oklahoma and earned a hard-fought 14-13 victory.
The Cougars have historically struggled to score coming out of the chutes. Since 1972 (LaVell Edwards' first season as head coach), BYU has scored 24 points or more in only 18 of 37 FBS openers. The Cougars have surpassed their season-ending scoring average in FBS season-openers only nine times in 37 outings. Don't be shocked if BYU's engine sputters to start off the season, especially with a pair of untested quarterbacks at the controls.
By the same token, don't expect BYU to spend too much time getting its offense in sync; the Cougars have scored 45 points or more in the second or third week of the season every season under Mendenhall.
The 24-point plateau is significant because it is one of the offensive landmarks for which Mendenhall's team aim every week. Since 1972, BYU has won 90% of games in which it has scored 24 points or more, compiling a record of 286-33 in that time (in the last four years, BYU is 38-3 when scoring 24 or more; a 93% win rate).
While "Score 24" will be the rallying cry Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, "Just Win, Baby" will take precedence. BYU has won seven of its last nine lid-lifters, and 22 of its last 24 home games overall. Contrast BYU's home success with the travails of the team on the nation's longest road losing streak, at 12 straight away losses and counting. That team: the Washington Huskies.
Greg Wrubell is the radio play-by-play "Voice of the Cougars," and hosts "BYU Football with Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall" on KSL Newsradio and KSL 5 Television. Wrubell's blog "Cougar Tracks" can be found at byu.ksl.com. "Behind the Mic" is published every Tuesday during the BYU football and basketball seasons.