The BYU Offense vs. CSU Defense Chess Match

This weekend, the 2-1 Cougars of BYU will face the 3-0 Rams of Colorado State. Looking to get rid of the taste of the Florida State game from their mouths, the Cougars look to reestablish their home-field dominance. Total Blue Sports takes an in-depth look at what makes BYU's offense such a powerful force, and how Colorado State's defense might try and counter it.

BYU coaches and players this week have been very complimentary of Colorado State and second-year head coach Steve Fairchild, noting that the Rams have come a long way in recent years.

"I think personnel-wise, they're a lot like our guys here on our BYU defense," said Coach Doman. "They have a similar style of athlete and a similar style of talent. I think they've come a long ways and have been as good as they've ever been in five years. Since I've been a coach this is the best team they've had overall. Their confidence is high and they're currently 3-0 ... I just think they're a different program and a different team. They've been able to recruit there and they've got a good stadium, good fans and good facilities. This is the best Colorado State team I've seen over the past five years."

"I think they're a much improved team," said Dennis Pitta. "I think over the last couple of years, they've been moving up in the ranks. I think their defense is second in the nation in takeaways, and so we can't turn the ball over like we have in the last couple games against this defense. If we take care of the ball and execute the way we are supposed to do, then we'll be fine. If we don't shoot ourselves in the foot like we did in the past by executing, we're confident we can move the ball against anyone regardless of the many different schemes or looks they may throw at us. We just can't beat ourselves by shooting ourselves in the foot."

The Cougar offense has faced various defensive schemes and combinations over the last three games they've played. Colorado State's defense is ran from a base 4-3-4, but the Rams have tweaked their defense, as would be expected, based on who they play and the situations they are in. In the past they've also switched things up to try and slow down BYU's passing attack?

"In the last couple of years [CSU] has shown, and in the early season, a zone blitz and a cover-three-type stuff," said Coach Doman. "But against us last year, especially in critical situations, they played us in man coverage, so we're going to prepare for everything. I think we're going to see a variety of things from a 4-3-4 defense very similar to what we saw from Oklahoma, but probably more of a mixture of zone blitz up front unlike Oklahoma. It's a real traditional defense and it's a zone-based defense."

"I think Oklahoma was a lot more cover-two against us," said Pitta. "I think Colorado State might go that route, but last year they ran a lot of cover-three and cover-four, except in specific circumstances, with zone blitzes. I wouldn't be surprised if they went a lot more cover-two, and typically that defense isn't a cover-two defense. The reason why I say that is because I can see them trying to take away the middle more, but we've got plays that go against all of those kinds of things so we'll be alright."

The Cougars anticipate Colorado State adjusting some aspects of their defense that didn't work well last year against BYU.

"I think last year we had pretty good success against Colorado State and the type of defense they ran," said Pitta. "The tight ends had a big game last year, so we know they're watching that film and are going to be ready for a lot of the things we did last year. We don't know how they're going to play us, but if they play us like they did last year we expect to be able to do things against them, especially from the tight end position where we can work the zones and holes that are in the zone. I do anticipate them making some adjustments because we were able to really gash them a lot last year."

The way BYU's offense operates, it forces defensive coordinators to make some touch decisions.

"In the 4-3-4, what possess the most difficulty for them is that we stay in a two-back, pro-style offense most of the time," said Pitta. "We're also flexed [meaning split out wide like a receiver] most of the time, so now the challenge is do you leave a linebacker in the game? Do you leave that third linebacker in the game or do you sub him out and bring in a nickelback into the game to provide better coverage than a linebacker? If you do that, than you're vulnerable to the run, and we're still very good with our run personnel because we still have our run package in the game. So that becomes the challenge for them. What do they do in this set? So now they manage it in down and distance and situation with how they substitute that linebacker in this given situation. It becomes a chess match for them in guessing what we're trying to do."

In the past, Colorado State has elected to use their linebackers to cover BYU's tight ends.

"Oh yeah, they use those guys in zone coverages," said Coach Doman. "For us, we've got to get [the linebackers] in coverage against personnel that we believe they're going to have difficulty covering. Our tight ends have had a lot of success and on a number of cases it's because they're lined up against linebackers. Our running backs are talented pass-catching guys and we believe we have mismatches against linebackers, so that's another aspect that we believe makes us so difficult to cover with linebackers that aren't spending a lot of time in pass coverage in practice. They're mostly working on run stops and fits and those kinds of things. If they don't have to, they don't want a linebacker covering a guy downfield that's used to catching passes in a route. We feel like we can pose those challenges to defenses."

This leads us to the underlying genius of BYU's offense. Many Cougar supporters have often scoffed at the simplicity of routes by receivers or the simplicity of scheme by which the offense operates. What most don't understand is there is a philosophy behind this simplicity that generates more from the appearance of less.

"We try and keep our formations as similar as we can in order to decrease predictability," said Coach Doman. "When we constantly line up in a similar formation, we can decrease predictability by being able to disguise multiple plays out of the same formation. The more formations you have, you're actually increasing predictability because you can't run enough plays out of those formations, so we try and stay in a lot less formations now with motions and other things that we try to do now to get into the looks that we run a variety of plays out of."

This is a lesson that Coach Doman learned from one of the best.

"LaVell Edwards used to always say, ‘As you increase formations you're increasing predictability,' the reason being there are only a few things you can do out of those formations, so you have to be careful that whatever formation you put into play, that there are a variety of plays that can be ran out of that formation.

"If you go through a course of a season, opponents are going to watch every single game and see a particular formation and say, ‘Man, they've only ran one play out of that formation and they've run it 10 times this year,'" continued Coach Doman. "So when they see that formation and if we've ran it 10 times the same way, then we become predictable. That's a tendency and trap that sometimes we fall into, so when you're preparing a game plan against a defense you always want to make sure that the formation that you're lining up in has a variety of plays that can come out of that set. On top of that, [you must] have enough variety of formation and different personnel changes and those types of things to create difficulty for a defense."

"Our offense is simple in its scheme, where we are able to adjust easily," said Pitta. "The great thing about our offense is we can do a lot of big things from simple things in our offense. Because of that we can throw a lot of defenses off because we can do so much out of what appears to be so little. On top of that we can make quick adjustments easily because of its simplicity. We can quickly adjust routes within our offense to better attack a defense and do it by having the same look."

Due to the circumstances, the Cougar offense believes no defense should be able to stop them when they run everything properly.

"The reality is, and this isn't to be arrogant, but the defense should never have the advantage," said Coach Doman. "They should never have an advantage unless you're in a third-and-long situation or a fourth-and-long situation. If you're in a first- and second-down call or in a third-and-medium situation, the offense should be added the advantage because the defense does not know what you're running. If the play is designed correctly, the defense could run whatever coverage they want to run and you should have an answer for it. Otherwise the play that is called is a poorly designed one, and … in our offense what makes us so difficult is we believe no matter what play we call we're going to have an answer to the coverage you run against us if we are in a manageable situation. Traditionally, BYU has shown to be very good and the only time we've gotten ourselves into trouble would be with turnovers. Other than that, we're pretty darn tough to stop if we can do all those other things the right way.

"A lot of it has to do with down and distance and situation," Coach Doman continued. "Situation being in the blue zone, third-and-short, third-and-long and goal-line stuff. [With] each one of those situations they've got specific packages that they like to run, and we have to prepare for those specific packages and have specific packages that we like to run. In those situations we want to try and have a play that can defeat any situation that they can throw at us, anticipating the most difficult. If they go man-to-man, do we have a concept that will work? That's the most important thing for us is we go into the right scheme of play from what we think they're going to do, especially in particular situations. It's kind of a chess match, which makes it a fun battle."

Let the battle between BYU and CSU begin.

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