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Doug Robinson: When did BYU become a running team?

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18 2013 4:40 p.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) runs for 259 yards against Texas Longhorns in Provo  Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. BYU won 40-21.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) runs for 259 yards against Texas Longhorns in Provo Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. BYU won 40-21. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Whaddya mean BYU is running the football? Whatever happened to Pass U., a.k.a. Quarterback U., a.k.a. The Quarterback Factory?

Whatever happened to, you know, THROWING the ball?

In two games, they have run the ball 125 times, compared to 67 pass attempts. When did they become the Air Force Academy?

Sixty-seven pass attempts in two games? John Beck threw 67 times in ONE GAME.

In the Cougars' win over Texas, the Cougars completed 9 passes — or the equivalent of one drive’s worth in the old days.

They ran the ball 72 times.

OK, who is that team in Provo and what did they do with the BYU football team?

Brigham Young Cougars running back Michael Alisa (42) takes the handoff from quarterback Taysom Hill (4) as BYU and Texas play Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 at LaVell Edwards stadium. BYU won 40-21. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars running back Michael Alisa (42) takes the handoff from quarterback Taysom Hill (4) as BYU and Texas play Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 at LaVell Edwards stadium. BYU won 40-21. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Has anyone contacted Missing Persons?

Let’s hope LaVell Edwards hasn’t heard about this.

You remember the Quarterback Factory, don’t you? They used to mass produce great (passing) quarterbacks — Sheide, Nielsen, Wilson, McMahon, Young, Bosco, Detmer, Walsh, Sarkisian, et al, no first names necessary. They practically invented passing in college football.

Before the Cougars came along, passing was viewed as an occasional necessary evil, like a colonoscopy. The thinking was that only three things could happen with a pass and two of them were bad.

Then Edwards came along and reasoned that the only way the Cougars — slower, smaller and sans blue-chip recruits — could win was with finesse. Since they weren't going to run over anybody, they would throw over and around them. First down, second down, third down, goal line, midfield — it didn’t matter — they were going to throw. The pass game transformed them into a top-20 program, national champions and a bowl-game regular.

Brigham Young Cougars running back Jamaal Williams (21) celebrates a big first with Brigham Young Cougars running back Paul Lasike (33)  in Provo  Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. BYU won 40-21.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars running back Jamaal Williams (21) celebrates a big first with Brigham Young Cougars running back Paul Lasike (33) in Provo Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. BYU won 40-21. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

The Cougars passed the football before it was cool. Then everyone started doing it. Today BYU’s stadium is named after Edwards and he didn’t get the honor by running the ball. Passing MADE BYU football what it is.

But last weekend, the Cougars rushed for 550 yards and four touchdowns, with Taysom Hill — BYU’s young quarterback — accounting for 259 yards and three of those TDs. Hill is a running back disguised as a quarterback. He’s averaging nearly 11 yards per carry.

He also throws like a running back. He’s completed just 22 of 66 passes, resulting in 304 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Do the math: That’s a 33 percent completion rate. Out of every 10 passes he throws, seven of them wind up in the grass.

The run-first mentality worked against Texas; it didn’t work against Virginia, although it might have if they had not decided to, ahem, throw a pass late in the game (which was intercepted and turned into the game-winning touchdown).

These are different times at BYU and nobody will care if the Cougars don’t throw, provided they win. It runs contrary to the wisdom that guided Edwards to adopt the pass game; then again, it doesn’t. The spread/read-option offense is not the power running game of Edwards’ day; it’s finesse.

It’s not as if the Cougars have given up completely on the pass game, but so far they have favored the run. The run-pass breakdown was 72/27 against Texas, but they threw a whopping 40 times against Virginia while attempting to come from behind and ran 53 times. The problem is, they don’t throw well, at least not yet.

Almost without anyone noticing, the Cougars haven’t been much of a passing team for years. Their passing game peaked in the 1980s and again in the early '90s. After averaging between 350 to 450 yards per game during that time, they have fallen off to more modest numbers.

From 1973 to 1985, they ranked No. 1 in the nation in pass offense eight times and never ranked lower than eighth. Or, to look at it another way, from 1973 through 1995, they ranked in the top 10 in pass offense 21 times — and the top five 18 times. Since then, they have cracked the top 10 only four times. The last three seasons they have ranked 76th, 42nd and 65th.

Who knows, BYU could return to its passing roots, but if their opponents can’t stop Hill and running back Jamaal Williams (5.2 yards per carry, 326 yards) on the ground, then why not run? They were about 50-50 run/pass last season.

With Hill at quarterback, the Cougars would seem to be moving away from what they have always done best. The question is, can they win consistently running the ball?

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. EMAIL: drob@deseretnews.com

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