Editor's Note: First in a three-part series.
PROVO — Jamaal Williams is expected to be back on roller skates, so to speak, this week in his final home game in a BYU uniform.
It will be his swan song in an offense designed to set him free.
Back in January when offensive coordinator Ty Detmer sat down with his BYU offensive staff, it was inventory time. What did they have and what could they do with it? Then they drew up a scheme for the 2016 season.
So, how has that design worked for the 7-4 Cougars heading into the final regular season game against Utah State on Saturday in LaVell Edwards’ Stadium?
“We’re doing what we hoped we could,” said BYU O-line coach Mike Empey.
Empey took a crack at explaining 2016 from his view in the trenches and the preseason design. Empey was the head coach at Snow College before he took the job as BYU’s tight end coach and recruiting coordinator following his playing days in Provo.
In that January meeting, Detmer’s staff outlined a plan. It was based on establishing a running game with Jamaal Williams and it was to provide balance with the run and pass. It required BYU’s O-line to be physical and add weight room muscle before the opener at Arizona. Detmer drew up an NFL type pro-set offense designed to gobble up the clock, dominate time of possession, and score.
“We’ve worked hard. We’ve tried to stay true and consistent to our belief,” said Empey.
What’s transpired is BYU has pulled off six games of more than 200-yard rushing and two other games that almost reached that mark. The Cougar offense has gained 2150 yards on the ground and 2371 through the air. BYU averages 4.7 yards per rushing carry, 195 yards per game on the ground, holds a 6-minute advantage in time of possession and is 46 of 48 (96 percent) in red zone scoring.
“Anyone who thought we’d pass it 50 times a game wasn’t listening to what we talked about all year long,” said Empey.
In a word or two, Empey deserves a ton of credit for his work this year.
For the part of his O-line guys, Empey said, “There are just five of them.”
Empey said the holes opened up for Williams, Taysom Hill, Squally Canada and others have been the result of a lot of work by more than just the five offensive linemen. “It’s taken the play of tight ends, running backs and receivers and the quarterback.”
What’s transpired through 11 games is opposing defenses have geared up to stop BYU’s run, committing eight to nine defenders in the box.
That the Cougars have averaged 4.7 yards per rushing play against defenses stacking the line could be seen as, well, a big success.
“I don’t know if we’re as consistent as we want to be. Our young players are still learning. But this is what we hoped to do. We have weapons in the run game and it would be a shame to not use them,” said Empey.
BYU opponents have been aggressive to stop Williams and Hill. “Sometimes when defenses get aggressive to stop the run, it opens up other things and it costs them. Defenses aren’t going to just stand there and let you open up holes on them. They slant, they twist, they stunt. They bring extra guys in the block and gamble with our pass.
“When they bring 7, 8 or 9 with one guy having run responsibility, it isn’t easy to block that many to make a run play work. They are doing everything to make those holes smaller and lanes tighter. When people complain that we start slow and this and that, if anybody with half a brain watches film, those defenses are doing their best to stop our run.
“We commit tight ends, commit the fullback to the run and it takes a lot from everyone to move the ball. It also takes the right timing and calls to make a defense pay for that alignment, and in time Detmer has taken advantage of it as a game goes along.”
BYU’s rushing totals include 213 (Arizona), 146 (Utah), 23 (UCLA), 280 (West Virginia), 338 (Toledo), 260 (Michigan State), 146 (Mississippi State), 135 (Boise State), 207 (Cincinnati), 155 (SUU) and 247 (UMass). In the SUU game, a bad snap and later a big yardage sack taken by Tanner Mangum prevented a 200-yard rushing day.
“You think back at all the BYU football games the past 40 or so years, how many seasons has BYU had six or seven 200-yard rush games?” said Empey. “I’d say not that many.”
Empey said BYU runs 40 or 50 times a game to grind opponents down. “Against Mississippi State, we stayed with it and it came down to a bootleg play that won it for us, all off establishing the run.”
The O-line coach said defenses are always going to gear up to stop the run because they do not want a team to attack them and have success that way. It’s kind of a demoralizing thing to have a team consistently move the ball on the ground against a defense, he said.
Empey said he expects Utah State to come in with a plan to make BYU throw the ball more against them. “Nothing’s changed, it’s what people do with us.”
Next: Empey explains the challenge of making offensive game plans in 2016.