Vakapuna and Stancil Increase Goal Line Options

BYU fans have got to love the Cougars six-deep rotation of four tailbacks and two fullbacks this year, with record-setting <b>Curtis Brown</b> waiting in the wings as a redshirt.

It is even more fun to imagine the combinations we might see this fall in different down-and-distance scenarios: especially around the goal line.

If we have three yards to score, BYU head coach Gary Crowton has a bunch of options, not the least of which is Taufui Vakapuna (simply "Fui" to the Cougar faithful) blocking for Marcus Whalen. That works for me.

I am also intrigued with the possibility that Thomas Stancil might be used for a change of pace on the goal line. This theory is that "if you can't see the tailback, you can't tackle him."

Reports from the scout team last year indicate Stancil made surprising yardage up the gut. Because the offensive line was so big, Stancil was not only smallish in height, but knew how to use the aircraft carriers to shield him and was agile enough to make yardage out of a slight opening. Plus, as one of the strongest guys on the team, pound for pound, he packs a wallop when it is time to challenge the linebackers.

I'm not suggesting that Stancil will replace Whalen in goal line situations, because Whalen has valuable experience and is strong. Given how inconsistent and poor the blocking was last year, and the nagging injuries he was battling, it is a credit to him that he had a good yards/carry average (4.3 yards, in MWC play, but only two touchdowns) and almost had a 1,000 yard season.

If we sometimes load up with a three tight end jumbo set on the goal line, we could see Kyle Wilson blocking for Vakapuna in a sheer "apply the leather" formation – if we wanted to challenge the defense to stop what looked to be a predictable give to Vakapuna. We'd score on a few "apply the leather" scenarios jumbo-TE sets. Add a play action to this TE formation and it could become high percentage.

The beauty of Vakapuna and Whalen is that the give could easily go to either back and is less predictable.

Although it is usually not a good idea to go wide on the goal line, if Stancil has a quicker burst off tackle than Whalen, he might be a change of pace option. Sometimes, if you are a linebacker, safety or cornerback, the easier guy to tackle is the one you can get a bead on.

Good goal line defenses get a sense of timing as to when to attack blocker and tailback with a surge. A guy like Stancil might throw that timing off a bit and thereby create a crease he could exploit.

If the tailback goes off tackle and meets the tackler at the two yard line, the tackler may be able to bring him down easier if it is Reynaldo Brathwaite. Both Whalen and Stancil have a much better chance of bowling him over or slipping the tackle – no difference if they end up in the end zone.

From all accounts of Vakapuna, a tackler at the two will need to check his dentures after the impact. For this reason, if Crowton wants a sledge hammer on the goal line, he may just go with Wilson blocking for Vakapuna. We have plenty of beef on the offensive line to get it going. I can't think of too many BYU goal line backfields that would have the same sledgehammer impact, given how strong Wilson is in both lower and upper body. He may not have the foot speed of the other backs, but if you want a blow delivered to a target that MUST defend a spot of ground, Wilson may be your man.

I'd include Tahi in this discussion of tailbacks on the goal line once I am confident he has eliminated his fumbling tendency noticeable during his freshman year.

The interesting thing about comparing the goal line prowess of Stancil to Whalen to Vakapuna is that Whalen outweighs Stancil by more than 40 pounds and Vakapuna outweighs Whalen by 20 more.

If Whalen is the horse who carries most of the running game, I don't usually like the idea of pulling him on the goal line if he has just carried the team down the field on his back. The exception is if we are in a tight game, and if we need fresh legs and if we have a better tackle-buster among the back ups ready to get it done. On this theory, Whalen will get his chances to score in his longer sprint-runs. You go for the win and bring in a specialty tackle-buster, giving Whalen a rest.

Two years ago, we had six backs go down to injury during the season, and had Ferris, a safety, working out before the bowl game as tailback. I don't remember him playing in the bowl game, but the fact he was getting reps as a tailback shows how desperate the team was.

I'd like to see Whalen healthy for the whole season this year. Although nothing is guaranteed, we might increase his chances for longevity by sharing the load. He probably would want the ball all the time and won't like it, but in the long run, it makes sense to give others some of the work. That would keep him rested and hopefully less prone to injury. More importantly, it prepares back ups if he goes down.

The problem with all this is that most athletes who hope for an NFL career want big yardage and big touchdown numbers. That means stay in the game and produce. For the team's benefit (and to increase Whalen's longevity), it may be better to reduce his carries, spread the load, and give opposing defenses more people to see on tape and prepare for.

One of the cool things about Vakapuna, on any part of the field, is that he can catch the ball. On third down, they might bring on bigger, slow-footed linebackers to deal with his power and find he is catching a pass and beating them to the corner. It's almost not fair to have a big, agile athlete who can catch also passes, who may be the toughest to tackle once he gets up a head of steam.

Down on the goal line, pretenders are exposed. Vakapuna is going to seriously figure in a lot of our options down there, and that will make Whalen, Wilson, Stancil and the tight ends more dangerous – because so much attention will be focused on stopping Vakapuna.

This has the look and feel of a different red zone offense to me. Anyone remember any BYU power football team, by the run, in the red zone? Didn't Luke Staley do most of his touchdown damage with long runs?

The equation becomes murkier and less pleasant for opposing defenses if X-factor quarterback John Beck gets red zone minutes because of his legitimate bootleg option abilities – in addition to the many power options.

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