Improving the passing game

After BYU ran through Texas like a tornado, the bull's-eye was squarely on Taysom Hill's back. Utah schemed against the ground game but made some adjustments against the passing game, forcing BYU to try and execute consistently. While Coach Mendenhall feels the receiver group is one of his deepest he had, BYU's passing efficiency is ranked 123rd in the nation, which is dead last.

The Cougar offense has to get back to throwing the ball. As stated in the week leading up to the Utah game, BYU's offense had to establish the passing game. After Hill ran for 259 yards against Texas, the Utah defense stacked the box and forced Hill to be consistent and beat them with his arm.

"Yeah, you could tell that they definitely game-planned for Taysom because he's such a dominant athlete and if you don't prepare for him he's going to run all over you like he did against Texas," said Brett Thompson. "[Texas] kind of let us unleash the beast, and so they had to contain him, and so we had to change our game plan a little bit."

Utah stacked the box while at the same time changing its coverage. Utah didn't play press coverage, but more man-zone coverage. Utah was willing to give up a few yards in the passing game to challenge Hill and BYU's receivers to execute on a consistent basis.

"We were expecting to play press-man and they didn't," said Thompson. "They were playing man-to-man in a lot of zone but they weren't really pressing us. We prepared for a physical Utah team, and, you know, I felt like they were physical but were just giving us the first few yards. I don't know, I just feel like we're a lot better than what we're doing now."

So how can the passing game improve?

"That's kind of the big question right now," said Thompson. "We definitely have the talent and the skill. I think what it really comes down to now is we just need to focus more on executing. The emphasis during this week is more reps with the QBs and routes on air where we're just running routes."

"We just need more reps together," said Mitch Mathews. "We're going to pass the ball and we have complete faith in Taysom, and he has complete faith in us that we're going to make plays. There's not a hitch in anyone's step this week coming out thinking, 'Oh, we should pass less because we haven't been doing the best.' We're going to pass just as much and even more because we have confidence in each other, in the coaches and in ourselves."

The receivers are rotated in and out of the game in order to keep them fresh despite the offense's quick tempo. The various route-running styles of the various receivers rotating in could make developing chemistry more difficult.

"With so many receivers rotating – everyone runs a little bit different – that could be a challenge for the quarterbacks, I feel," said Thompson. "We just need to get more and more reps so that our quarterbacks understand the tendencies of the receivers."

This could be a partial cause for the lack of chemistry between Hill and the Cougar receivers. The chemistry has to improve and improve quickly.

"Yeah, I mean, that could definitely be it," said Thompson. "I don't know, I could see that being a factor. I feel like it's more on a person-to-person basis where everyone needs to do their part, including myself. I'll make mistakes in a game that I don't make in practice. It's more of just each individual person have that competitive greatness and becoming better.

"Another big thing is our third-down percentages. We haven't been converting our third downs as much as we would want to, which makes it harder to sustain drives because the percentages go down.

"If we do better on completing longer distances on first and second down, our third-down percentages will go up. It's much easier to get two or three yards on third down than eight or higher. It's hard on a quarterback being third-and-long because then defenses can dictate the situation much easier."

There will always be growing pains when developing a new offense with a young quarterback. Likewise, there will be growing pains when figuring out how to best operate within the nuances of the "go fast, go hard" offense.

"Yeah, he emphasizes go hard, go fast, but now I think they're going to emphasize when you go hard and go fast [to] be calm and catch the ball," said Thompson. "I think now the big emphasis is let's get reps with the quarterbacks, let's throw to routes that we throw in the game, and do it quickly but be calm in execution. Our coaches have so much confidence in us and I'm so grateful for that."

Mendenhall stated that his offense might boast the deepest receiving corps he's ever had. The fact that the roster has players such as Ross Apo, Cody Hoffman, Mitch Mathews, Brett Thompson, Skyler Ridley and Eric Thornton makes one wonder why there isn't more success.

"I just look at who we have at the skill positions and, man, we're dominant," said Thompson. "Then I feel we have the quarterback to do it with, and just to see us not at that potential that we want to be is frustrating. At the same time it's like, 'Man, wait till we get to that point.' Once we get to that point, this offense is going to be incredible. I know some people think, 'Oh, it's too late.' It isn't, and we're still a young offense working out the kinks, but we'll get to that potential that we do have and when we do it's going to be a lot of fun to watch."

While losing to Utah for the fourth year in a row hurts, the Cougars now have a chance to better develop the passing game with Middle Tennessee up next on the schedule.

"It does sting a little bit," said Mathews. "What's great about this team is we've got guys who want to fight, and they'll fight every week no matter who we're playing. This week we're going to go out and fight, and we're going to go out and play tough against Middle Tennessee because we don't want that feeling ever again. We don't want to see each other mad or upset about a loss and we're going to fight for each other."

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