Having gone through a transition in offenses before, I feel comfortable starting from scratch. —BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum
PROVO — BYU’s offense is beginning to form. It’s a sprinkle of Northwestern, a taste of Boise State and Stanford, and a system that’s flexible enough to go Air Raid if needed but is centered on balance using the pass and run in equal doses.
It’s essentially a pro-style offense that uses multiple sets, heavy on the tight ends. It attempts to establish a physical run game with a precision control passing game.
It’s a work in progress with plenty to polish. New offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, at the very least, has created an atmosphere that has both an edge to the workload and extreme accountability to correct mistakes.
You mess up a Grimes rep, and you know it, as does everybody else.
Grimes is demanding perfection. His level of accountability in practices stands out. He’s not afraid to pull anybody — and I mean anybody — off the field over a mistake and that player could be ordered to the sideline or even the locker room.
By Thursday, the Cougars will have completed their fifth and sixth practices of spring and be more than one third through the 15 allowable practice sessions. They will try a fifth variation of the offense of what is expected to be eight by week’s end.
Through Monday, quarterbacks have had only one fumbled snap in a system in which ball security is the top priority. Four quarterbacks, Tanner Mangum, Joe Critchlow, Beau Hoge and freshman Zach Wilson, have taken the majority of snaps. There have been few interceptions and fumbles by backs.
You have to feel for the O-linemen, who not only answer to new coach Ryan Pugh, but also to grad assistant Matt Reynolds. And if that’s not enough, Grimes, the former LSU O-line coach who hired his protégé Pugh, still has his laser eyes on blockers while demanding perfection. We’re talking steps measured in inches.
Other than that, there are a few observations about style and substance that one can make as an outsider with limited exposure. Grimes has deployed a flexible, quick-paced style that incorporates some motion and shifts to create last-second, before-the-snap overloads on formations designed to make defenses react late.
Another observation is, true to promise, QBs and others are being given a clean slate to earn jobs. Wilson’s portal is as big as Critchlow's or Hoge's. And he’s making the most of it. Running back Zach Katoa is pushing Squally Canada to the limit and Ula Tolutau better get healthy fast.
Passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick is high on what he’s seen from his QBs. He specifically broke down four of his QBs for ESPN 960 host Ben Criddle on Monday:
On Mangum: “One of the biggest surprises. Tanner is doing more than I thought he could. He’s going out there and throwing the ball around and taking drops. He does 7-on-7s and goes against air and does all the team drills that don’t involve going against the defense. He doesn’t go full speed on sprintouts or nakeds (bootlegs). He is throwing very well.”
On Hoge: “He’s a very talented guy and very impressive. The biggest question about him is if he can stay healthy. I think it’s safe to say he's a guy who can play for us and win games but he has to stay healthy and he has to prove that to us. He has a great arm, he’s accurate and he can run. He’s smart and knows what we’re doing.”
On Critchlow: “He’s just a super conscientious guy who does everything right. He does everything exactly the way you ask him to do it and that’s what keeps him in the race. That’s what got him on the field a year ago, I’m sure. He just kept pecking away at it. He’s a lunch-pail guy who works hard every day.”
On Wilson: “He’s a mature kid and very polished for his age. He’s really a hard worker. He’s out here competing. All of them are getting the offense down. He is very conscientious and all are pushing each other every day.”
Grimes, Roderick, Pugh, receivers coach Fesi Sitake and tight ends coach Steve Clark are trying to take advantage of how obedient and smart they say their players are by laying it on thick in a very short time.
Mangum has been through these kind of changes with Robert Anae and Ty Detmer.
“Having gone through a transition in offenses before, I feel comfortable starting from scratch,” Mangum told reporters Monday.
“I’ve been there, so I understand what it takes to get an offense down. It has come a little bit quicker than it did last time, and I think that is just me growing personally as a player. It takes time and effort and we still have a lot to work on.”
At this early stage, anybody who isn’t at practice for every minute of everything is handicapped at making a true assessment of Grimes’ offense. There’s no better filter than your own eyeballs.
Nobody, including coaches, can fully get a bead on this BYU offense until film study after a full-contact multi-play scrimmage. And that hasn’t happened yet.