Why the offense will be better this year

Receiver Ross Apo set a BYU freshman record last year for touchdown receptions with nine. This year, the redshirt sophomore expects the Cougar offense to be improved for a number of reasons.

Former BYU quarterback Jake Heaps was right-handed, while Riley Nelson is a left-handed quarterback. Both threw with a different velocity and timing, making the delivery of the ball constantly different. It may seem a like a small problem, but a problem it was according to wide receiver Ross Apo.

"First off, we have one quarterback and that makes a big difference with our offense this year in comparison to last year," said Apo. "There are a couple of things that makes our offense, in my opinion, better because of that. When you're a wide receiver, you get can now get used to how the ball is going to be delivered and adjust to that.

"When you have two different quarterbacks, you have two different deliveries and would have to remember that every time one would go out and the other would come back in. I know it sounds kind of strange, but as a receiver you have a lot to think about just trying to get open. When you're thinking about how the ball is going to be delivered, it becomes a distraction. We don't have to worry about that this year and have better chemistry between us."

So how has Nelson improved this year as a quarterback?

"Beside his arm and his physical strengths, his mind is a lot different this year than last year," said Apo. "He's much more confident in his throws this year and he's not afraid to throw it in a little window because he's a better passer this year. We've all seen how well he can run, but now we're seeing Riley become more of a pocket passer and picking apart defenses. It's going to be fun to see what he can do this year."

Nelson took over during the fifth game of last season, and went 6-1 as a starter. He threw for 19 touchdowns, ran for one, and had 2,109 all-purpose yards. As the starting quarterback for 2012, Nelson's numbers will be much improved.

"Football is a game of feel and momentum, and so when you bring in different quarterbacks in the game at different times, it was hard for either of them to get a feel for the flow of the game," said Apo. "When you get put in and pulled out, that breaks up the rhythm of the offense. With just having Riley in there now, we can all be on that same page and not have to start over when a new quarterback comes in the game."

Better chemistry and offensive rhythm should be two characteristics that make this year's offense different than last year's. In addition, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman now has a year of experience under his belt.

"He's getting better and better every day," said Apo. "He's learning how to set defenses up really well and you can see that with the kind of success we've been having out here during our scrimmages. It's been kind of hard for us to pick up this new offense, but we're all getting it slowly. I think within the next few weeks we'll be fully ready."

With his added experience, Coach Doman has continued to develop his offense.

"Now I can be anywhere depending on where the ball is lined up," said Apo. "So, what this does is it makes the offense less predictable because we can run multiple plays from the same formation and more flexible because we can run the same plays without having to have receivers line up in their normal positions. It's also going to make our offense less predictable because guys can line anywhere and run the play from that position."

Having receivers that can play multiple positions will allow the offense to operate much quicker. The receivers can quickly line up at the nearest position and know what route to run when the football is placed.

"I'm very excited about our offense this year," said Apo with a smile. "The interesting thing about our offense is, while it might be fitted to more our individual strengths, it will be harder for defenses to figure out what we're doing. For example, I play the z-receiver and Cody [Hoffman] plays the x-receiver, but this year we're switching back and forth. It used to be I just played one side of the field and Cody played the other, but that's not the case anymore.

"What this does is it minimize the number of formations that we have because now we don't need as many. The more formations you have, the more predictable you become. When you line up in a specific formation, it tells the defense what's coming. This way we can maximize the number of plays we can run out of a single formation.

"When you have two formations and can run 20 different plays out of it, that's when the offense becomes less predictable. Then when you're able to have players line up in different positions but in a single formation, it just makes it all that much more difficult for defenses to know what's coming while each player knows what to do. We're trying to get everything polished up before we start getting into all the Washington State stuff."

A less predictable passing game means a more effective running game that can further set up the receivers for more success. It's a reciprocal dynamic that Coach Doman hopes to exploit.

"It's unpredictable, and then when you add an effective running game on top of it, all of it just opens things up even more," said Apo. "The way I look at it is like this. Some people feel the run game sets up the pass, but I see it going both ways. I see the less predictable passing game setting up the run for success, then the success of the run game setting up the passing game. You'll see Mike [Alisa] running up the middle with Jamaal [Williams] running around the end, so we'll have like six guys in the box with two corners and linebackers trying to figure out who to cover, not knowing what's coming because it all looks the same when it really isn't."

Last year Coach Doman was figuring out he could do with the personnel he had, and because of that, BYU's offense had less of an identity. Now a year wiser, Coach Doman can plug in the strengths of his players within his new offensive identity.

"As far as our offense being more potent, I think Coach Doman understands the type of players he has and is now revolving the offense around the strengths of the players," Apo said. "He knows what players are his speed guys that can spread offenses and he knows what players are his more quick inside guys, rather than last year where guys were running plays that didn't suit their strengths and that automatically put them and our offense in a disadvantage. I think this is something that is going to really help our offense."

This week the Cougars should begin to make the transition from team focus to turning their attention to Washington State. Apo feels that if the season-opener was played today, the offense would be just fine.

"I think we would be fine," Apo said. "I think everyone is confident and everybody knows what they're doing. If we had to play today, I think we would all be good."

It will be exciting to see how all the hard work by the players and Coach Doman's creativity in developing BYU's offense comes together at LaVell Edwards Stadium just 10 days from now.

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