PROVO — A year ago, BYU’s new offensive attack focused on going fast and going hard.
As the Cougars open spring football practices Monday, the goals are to revamp the passing game and score more touchdowns.
“Ultimately, points are what matters,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall. “When we get in the red zone, we have to have touchdowns rather than field goals. More explosive plays through the air has to be part of what happens in terms of balance and effectiveness in our offense.”
The "go-fast, go-hard" offense debuted with mixed results last season.
In 2013, the Cougars ran a lot of plays, and racked up a lot of yardage — especially on the ground. However, lack of efficiency in the red zone, a lack of a consistent passing attack, and a lack of touchdowns prevented BYU from winning more than eight games.
The Cougars finished No. 10 nationally in rushing offense and No. 14 in total offense in 2013. But the Cougars were also No. 55 in scoring offense, 62 in red zone offense, No. 71 in passing offense, No. 85 in third-down conversion percentage and No. 98 in pass efficiency.
During an informal discussion with the media last week, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe echoed Mendenhall’s sentiments regarding the state of the Cougar offense.
“The coaching staff right now is looking at ways in which we can enhance our abilities to move the chains and score,” Holmoe said. “I thought we had a ton of yardage last year, but we didn’t necessarily have that yardage at the right time, against the right people, in perfect situations. Those are things we study all offseason, and try to come back with answers so that we can score touchdowns instead of field goals, and field goals instead of nothing, and more times penetrating the other team’s territory with opportunities to score. There just seemed like there were times when we were three-and-out, or short drives, when we should have had longer drives. And I thought we did some great things, and some things that we need a lot of help with."
Both Holmoe and Mendenhall like the new offensive philosophy that has been established.
"I would say last year was a very important year. We made a big transition with changes on the offensive staff,” Holmoe said. “We changed our offensive philosophy, like, 180 degrees. Looking back, now that I have had time to study it a little bit, I thought that we made some real nice strides.”
“I strongly believe our program moved forward last year from the year before, and in relation to where we need to go,” Mendenhall said. “I’m very confident in the direction.”
The up-tempo offense put a lot of pressure on BYU’s defense, too.
“We ran a lot more plays, and it put our defense on the field a lot more,” Holmoe said. “So both our offensive and defensive staffs are studying that now, and researching it, and asking, what does it mean? They didn’t realize our defense was going to be on the field that much more. I think they knew about it, but they are trying to see how to optimize that.”
Those returning on offense include quarterback Taysom Hill, who ran for 1,344 yards a year ago, and running back Jamaal Williams, who rushed for 1,233 yards.
The Cougars will have to fill the void left by Cody Hoffman, who became the school’s all-time leading receiver. And, of course, improved offensive line play will also be a point of emphasis in the spring.
Defensively, BYU loses three very talented linebackers — Kyle Van Noy, Uani Unga and Spencer Hadley. Mendenhall announced last month that Bronson Kaufusi will switch from the defensive line to outside linebacker.
Outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga said Kaufusi hasn’t secured that job yet.
“We’re going to look at him in the spring to see what he can offer out there,” said Poppinga. “We’re not going to just say, ‘Hey, you’re an outside ‘backer.’ It’s something we’re going to look at and see if it’s something he can handle. In the past nine years that we’ve run this defense, the outside linebackers have been the key components to the defense. They’re the main guys on the defense. They make most of the plays and drive the defense to success, I think. It’s all 11 guys, but the highlight of our defense is the outside ‘backers. We’re not just going to throw anyone out there. He’s going to have to earn it. We’ll see what happens.”
At cornerback, Trent Trammell, a junior college transfer who suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first day of spring drills last March, returns to practice Monday. Trammell has two years of eligibility remaining.
“Trenton is winning almost every (conditioning) drill (during offseason workouts),” Mendenhall said. “He’s really doing a nice job.”
Cornerback Jordan Johnson, who sustained a season-ending knee injury during fall camp is “really close to being able to return to full-speed cutting and change-of-direction. Jordan will not participate in spring. Trent will.”
Poppinga said he’s looking forward to getting back onto the practice field.
“I know the players are anxious to get back onto the field and not have to condition and run,” he said. “They’re ready to play football. As coaches, we’re ready to go coach.”
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