Berry's Confidence and His Fixable "Long Ball"

I have followed with interest the various points of view in recent weeks about BYU quarterback <b>Matt Berry's</b> long ball – or rather his inability so far to hit streaking wide open receivers on the deep throws.

In the first two games against Georgia Tech and USC, he seemed to throw with "more air under each pass" than other long balls we've seen from Berry in the past. Wide receivers Chris Hale and Rod Wilkerson had beaten their cover guys several times, but more than one instance, Berry's long passes were either intercepted or broken up.

I think Berry will find his "long ball" groove in a game or two, and it is not something that we should worry about because he and the coaches are well aware of it and working on it. Look for Hale, Wilkerson or both to catch some soon without breaking stride.

To explain Berry's long ball problems, Crowton mentioned the root cause was because Berry was rushing his deep throws. He said he wasn't confident in his blocking and did not hold up long enough to set up properly for his long throws.

As a theory to kick around, it may be that Berry does not quite have the timing and mechanics of the entire long-ball throw quite down yet in a game, not in practice drills with no hitting to disturb his concentration or focus. If you think about it, even if you have a pretty strong arm (which Berry has), you don't throw a 15 yard pass with the same exact timing, mechanics or follow through as a ball that travels 45 yards in the air.

Berry needs to put more of his body into the deep throws. He was sacked six times by USC and flattened a bunch of other times, hanging tough to complete some good throws, but getting decked just as he released the ball, getting back up and going for more. He may be a doctor's son, but he is one tough guy and a competitor.

In this theory, a great long pass requires not just the arm strength of the quarterback, but Berry must have confidence in several areas:

(a) Berry must have confidence and an inward belief that he has time to set up and properly follow through, both arm and body, for the big toss. This includes confidence in his own "feel" for when the pocket is about to collapse, since most of his focus must be downfield on his reads. The "little clock" in his head will instinctively tell him how many seconds or milliseconds he has to get rid of the ball based on his initial read on whether a blitz is coming or not.

(b) Berry must have confidence his deep route receivers (Rod Wilkerson and Chris Hale) and can outrun the defensive backs and he should know how far to lead them.

I digress, but I have been pleasantly surprised with how well BYU's young offensive line and running backs blocked against USC. The percentage of "blocks made" versus "blocks missed" is higher than I expected.

Berry knows that interceptions were his downfall last year, and the more worried he is about throwing an INT, the faster this "inner clock" is likely to rush his throws, short or long. Consequently, a quarterback playing against an exceptionally strong, quick and pressing defense will find his "internal clock" being rushed, compared to playing against a team easier to block.

Absent mistakes, the Cougars could have beaten USC. We hung with the No. 4 ranked team for a good part of the game, and the tape of the game shows genuine concern on the part of the USC coach when the Cougars closed the gap to 21-18. The Georgia Tech and USC games were excellent preparation for MWC conference battles. If we see a truly confident Berry emerge during conference play, the root is in the good things done in the first two games and his ability to grow from adversity.

Calibrating the Internal Survival Clock Berry was decked while releasing the ball or sacked on some throws that took far less time in the pocket than his long throws. Like any quarterback, he has a survival clock ticking in his head that tells him how much time he has before he gets nailed. If that clock is not exactly right and he guesses wrong and holds on too long, he gets nailed and could fumble or give up an interception.

That would support Crowton's comment he was rushing the deep throw, partly because he doesn't truly trust the blocking to hold up that second or two longer than the easy 3-step drop throw. If he is rushed in that way, it suggests to me he thinks he does not have the time to stride into the throw with full follow-through. I'm not sure if that causes him to put "too much air" under the balls or not or if it has something to do with a slightly different grip strength per finger for an accurate deep throw.

In the first two games, Hale and Wilkerson were open against GT and USC cornerbacks on several occasions, but were underthrown for Berry interceptions. This is a fixable problem.

These Problems Are Fixable

MWC defensive backs will not typically have the athleticism of either GT or USC so that may "fix" Berry's internal clock, and make him feel like he has time and space to trust his wide receivers will break open.

I am pleased with how well Berry played against Georgia Tech and USC. With less defensive pressure, and less athletic DBs in upcoming MWC competition, I expect Berry's lack of confidence to be corrected when he finds some success in connecting on some long balls. By the time we face Notre Dame, we'll see if his inner clock finds its groove

Since every aspect of BYU's offensive game was sped up by the GT and USC defenses, the BYU defense returned the favor, wowing both the Yellow Jacket and Trojan head coaches.

Subtle Team Details of Vertical Passing

There are a lot of subtle details about a great looking long pass play that easily escape the casual observer. The fact that it looks easy belies the fact that a large number of team details need to be right. If all the other important factors are not in sync (e.g. blocking), Berry may try to compensate by rushing his throwing motion.

I believe that BYU's vertical passing game will arrive as soon as Berry connects on several long balls in one game – where the ball travels at least 30 yards. Nothing is more exciting to watch that seeing BYU's vertical passing game return.

On tape, the MWC defensive coordinators will see Hale and Wilkerson getting open against GT and USC defensive backs and Berry underthrow them every time on the deep routes – with defensive pressure in his face during much of the game. New Mexico, for one, hopes that Berry doesn't fixed it during today's game, a payback game for an embarrassing loss last season in Provo.

Stay tuned for payback in the next few hours, even if our vertical passing game hasn't returned.

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