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Ryan Teeples: BYU's rapid offense is lengthening the quarterback learning curve

Published: Monday, Sept. 30 2013 10:40 a.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) warms up prior to the BYU Cougars playing Middle Tennessee State in NCAA football Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, in Provo.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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There seems to be a lot of controversy at BYU right now around four simple words.

No, not “please sell caffeinated soda.”

Rather, it's a catchy mantra that offensive coordinator Robert Anae dropped on Cougar Town when he rode in guns-a-blazing this spring: “Go fast, go hard.”

This motto is the mission statement that the BYU offense lives by. It’s a semantic reminder that Anae wants his offense to run plays at a blistering pace.

You’ve surely seen it: The Cougar offense runs a play. All players sprint to the new line of scrimmage — even the typically lumbering linemen — and quarterback Taysom Hill is ready for the snap seconds after the previous play has ended.

Fans have to adjust. Those of us used to offenses of coordinators-past (including Anae himself during his first term in Provo) have been conditioned to breathe, eat, and second-guess the play call while the play-clock winds down.

But now we can’t turn away from the TV screen or complain to the fan next to us in the stands without risk of missing a play. And if you’re a DVR watcher who fast-forwards through the play-clock, you’re really out of luck.

On the plus side, there aren’t any delay of game penalties.

On the negative, it’s still not working well.

What’s the read?

Through three games, the linemen and backfield weren’t having to run nearly enough between plays. Especially pass-plays. Until an extremely efficient 14-for-19 passing game against Middle Tennessee State Friday night, the chains were moving less than 40 percent of the time Hill attempted a forward pass.

You can question the play-calling, Hill’s accuracy and all the usual suspects. But there’s a critical aspect of the passing game that hasn’t yet developed that will take longer to do so because of the blistering pace with which the offense moves: Pre-snap reads.

This is an issue in the run game as well. On more than one occasion against Utah, Taysom Hill missed noticing an unblocked blitzer because he didn’t take time to read the defense’s setup. This is a critical part of the game.

Interestingly enough, it’s what made Robert Anae so good in his first stint as offensive coordinator. Back then, the offense used a lot of motion to get a tip as to what the defense was going to do.

Time after time, Fui Vakapuna was sent into motion to see if a man followed him. Every play, Max Hall stood out of a crouch to see if the DBs were a step in, leaning or looking to one side.

The position of every defensive player has the potential to tip the quarterback to what the defense is going to do. This allows him to know which of his route options are most likely to be open. Or, even better, he can audible at the line to exploit what he knows the defense will do.

Ty Detmer is a legend in BYU football lore, beloved by all who follow the Cougars. But in case you didn’t know, Detmer didn’t have tremendous physical skills. He was good, certainly. But what made him a great quarterback was his ability to make excellent reads. Time after time he exploited a defense that gave too much away.

In the NFL, Peyton Manning has made reading defenses his trademark. He’s truly a genius when it comes to knowing how to identify tells, even subtle ones, then adjusting his passes to take advantage. Once he sees a defensive play in action, he knows exactly how to attack it the next time.

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