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How upset over nationally ranked Boise State 2 years ago marked a change in BYU’s offensive philosophy

No. 10 Cougars go into Saturday’s rematch with Boise State at LaVell Edwards Stadium not divulging who will be their starting quarterback

BYU Cougars quarterback Baylor Romney is congratulated by teammates following their defeat of the Boise State in 2019.
BYU quarterback Baylor Romney is congratulated by teammates following their victory over Boise State Broncos in NCAA football in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick looks back fondly on the Cougars’ 28-25 win over then-No. 14 Boise State two years ago on a cold, rainy night in Provo, and not just because the victory snapped a three-game losing skid and went a long ways toward earning head coach Kalani Sitake his first contract extension.

That’s the game where BYU’s offensive coaching staff — Jeff Grimes was the offensive coordinator and Roderick was the passing game coordinator, but had taken a bigger role in the play-calling — decided to throw caution to the wind, and rain, and become more aggressive.

“We had lost to South Florida and Toledo and kinda reached a point where we decided that we couldn’t keep sustaining this (strategy) to stay on schedule — 4 yards here, 4 yards there — and have a 14-play drive to get a touchdown. That is hard to do,” Roderick said.

So the Cougars, who were dealing with quarterback injury issues back then as well, having gone from Zach Wilson to Jaren Hall to Baylor Romney in the space of four quarters of football, got creative offensively.

They turned the tables on the undefeated Broncos, who have been known for employing gadget plays as much as any program in the country, and used some deception to score touchdowns on 39- and 27-yard passes from Romney to tight end Matt Bushman to take a 28-10 lead and then held on as BSU rallied.

“We started finding ways to be more aggressive, whether it was throwing the ball down the field or if it was being creative with our personnel, mixing in a trick play, whatever it was,” Roderick said. “We just decided we gotta be more aggressive and let it rip.”

The win started a 20-3 run for BYU, and it is largely because of that ability to make explosive plays that the Cougars went 11-1 last year with Wilson starting all 12 games and 5-0 this year with Hall starting the first three before suffering bruised ribs in the 27-17 win over Arizona State and Romney starting the next two before sustaining an apparent concussion in the first half of a 34-20 win over Utah State.

“As we have gotten more time in the offense, our players have learned the system better. We have got experienced players now,” Roderick told the Deseret News on Wednesday. “If you combine that with being aggressive and your ability to run the football, the explosive plays have a chance to happen.”

More of the same will be needed Saturday, even if the roles are reversed from two years ago. BYU is now the undefeated team and ranked No. 10 nationally, while the Broncos are 2-3 and coming off a 41-31 loss to Nevada on their blue turf.

Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally by ABC (Ch. 4 in the Salt Lake City market). Boise State’s defense has struggled, but its offense is as explosive as ever — even without much of a running game. The Broncos are 127th in the country (out of 130 FBS teams) in rushing offense at 74.6 yards per game.

“They have a good quarterback and a lot of really good receivers and good running backs,” BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said Tuesday. “They have the capability to score a lot of points. It is a little bit different than the Boise we have faced the last five years, as far as scheme. But they certainly have shown that they have the personnel that can push the ball down field.”

Of course, the big question in Provo this week has been which of the three quarterbacks who have played for the Cougars this season will start against upset- and revenge-minded Boise State. BYU crushed BSU 51-17 last year for its first win ever against Boise State in Boise, then stuck around and took pictures of themselves on the blue turf, an act that rankled the Broncos.

Wednesday, in the last media session of the week, Roderick told reporters that nobody has been ruled out.

“Jacob, Jaren, Baylor, Sol-Jay (Maiava-Peters) are all out there getting reps, just like always,” Roderick said. “We have a pretty good system here giving everybody reps. … I will say Jaren is closer than Baylor right now. But so far they haven’t told me that anybody can’t play.”

Roderick said coaches will probably make a decision after Thursday’s practice, the final big, physical practice of the week. He downplayed the difficulty that the Cougars find themselves in now at quarterback.

“That’s part of the deal,” he said. “That’s coaching. Like I said, right now all of them are available as far as I know. So we are really not at the end of our rope at this moment. It feels like we are getting healthier — not less healthy.”

Hall and Romney seemingly give the Cougars a better chance for a big play — Hall’s longest pass this season was 67 yards and Romney’s was 55 — but Roderick said Conover wasn’t asked to throw deep in the second half against the Aggies when he was 5 of 9 for 45 yards with a long of 16.

“I was a little bit more conservative (in the second half),” Roderick said. “It really didn’t have anything to do with Jacob. I would have been conservative with anybody there at quarterback. When you are back in your own territory with a two-score lead and it is third-and-12, we are going to hand the ball off and run it. That’s just part of the game.”

Especially when you have Tyler Allgeier, who has emerged as the Cougars’ most explosive player, with 607 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns. Receiver Neil Pau’u has four TDs, while receiver Gunner Romney and tight end Isaac Rex have three apiece.

“I feel like we have as much faith in Jacob as we do in Baylor or Jaren. Those three quarterbacks are great quarterbacks and they are going to play great no matter who plays. We will help them out,” Rex said. “We will make plays for them. The O line will keep blocking for them. The receivers and tight ends will block and make plays. The running backs will obviously make plays. Whoever is in there, we will help out and we will support.”