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BYU’s offense this season has been creative, innovative and ‘fun to run’ for elusive QB Zach Wilson

Cougars have used a variety of gadget plays, unusual formations and defenders on offense to fool opponents.

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BYU quarterback Zach Wilson (1) dives for a touchdown against the USC Trojans in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. BYU won 30-27 in overtime.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — A quarter of the way through the season, creativity is quickly becoming a hallmark of BYU’s offense in 2019 as coordinator Jeff Grimes utilizes the versatility and athleticism of dual-threat quarterbacks Zach Wilson and Jaren Hall.

Mammoth defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga is also getting in on the act.

Nobody has figured out what to call it yet, but after the loss to Utah and back-to-back overtime wins over Tennessee and USC, Wilson said Grimes’ offense continues to keep him on his toes.

“It’s just fun to run,” he said.

Why not?

In the 30-27 win over USC, Wilson almost completed the scoring trifecta. He threw a pinpoint touchdown pass to Dax Milne, took a “great play call,” a designed quarterback draw, 16 yards to the house, and nearly caught a touchdown pass.

On that last one, Wilson handed the ball to Aleva Hifo, who pitched it to Hall as Wilson snuck out of the backfield. Wilson had to wait on Hall’s throw and he was tackled at the USC 8 for a gain of 19, or he might have scored. Jake Oldroyd’s 23-yard field goal gave the Cougars a 10-7 lead.

The Cougars used a similar gadget play — Hifo’s reverse run — to set up their winning touchdown in the second overtime at Tennessee and have used more reverses this year than in recent memory to take advantage of Hifo’s speed.

Receiver Gunner Romney, who caught a 35-yard pass from Wilson after the sophomore QB scrambled and found Romney alone in the middle of the field, said some of the “creative plays” were installed last year, and some this year.

“Most of the time, they are situation-based,” Romney said. “So we do it off what we think will work against a particular team. We had a couple carry over from last season, just because we think they will work well in certain situations. But we game-plan and if we think a special play can work against a team, then we put it in that week.”

One such special play was actually installed by a defensive coach, linebackers coach Ed Lamb. Players and coaches referred to it as the “scrum play” in which Tonga, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound defensive star, turned into a road grader and cleared the way for defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku to score BYU’s first TD against USC.

Former quarterback Austin Kafentzis, a safety, took the snap, although television announcers called him Luc Andrada, who also wears No. 24 but is a receiver.

Grimes said on BYU’s Coordinators Corner show Monday that there are a lot of other possibilities for the formation in which every player is within 5 yards of the center. Could Tonga get the ball, a la William “The Refrigerator” Perry of the famed 1985 Chicago Bears?

“Always a possibility,” Grimes said. “This is America, right?”

Head coach Kalani Sitake said Lamb used the formation when he was head coach at Southern Utah and brought it with him to Provo. Then Sitake rued using it on multiple occasions in the third quarter.

“I probably need to learn that when a team gets a couple looks at it, probably not to call it again,” he said. “But I can be stubborn at times.”

Some fans wondered why Ghanwoloku, rather than the other No. 5, graduate transfer running back Ty’Son Williams, got the ball near the end zone.

“It is just something that we have had in since the first day I got here,” Williams said. “It is just something Dayan is more comfortable with.”

Generally, Sitake has given Grimes all the freedom he wants to run special plays, gadget plays, trick plays or whatever else he wants to call them.

“That (group of coaches) has tons of experience, and they know how to put together a game plan,” Sitake said. “Grimey does an amazing job leading that room, and he has great input from all those guys.”

Some forget that receivers coach Fesi Sitake, quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick, and tight ends coach Steve Clark have also been offensive coordinators before.

Reporters have learned to not refer to Hall taking snaps — as he’s done a couple times — as BYU being in the wildcat formation.

“He is a player on our team that can line up anywhere and do anything,” said Roderick. “He can play quarterback, receiver, running back and anything else so I think this season you will see him do a lot more things.”

Hall had trouble handling one of those snaps, which was a bit high, against Utah. But that’s not why he didn’t play against Tennessee. Roderick said the redshirt freshman from Maple Mountain High was “really sick that week” and didn’t practice at all leading up to the game.

Against USC, though, Hall almost threw his first touchdown pass. The throw to Wilson was his first career completion.

“We definitely still believe in Jaren,” Roderick said. “He is one of our best athletes on this team that can do something for us. So we plan on using him.”

Added Grimes: “We just call it Jaren playing quarterback. I imagine you might see it again somewhere down the road.”

Especially when it’s time for a creative play.

Highlights of BYU’s offense vs. USC

• No three-and-outs, no turnovers

• Zach Wilson’s pinpoint 30-yard touchdown pass to Dax Milne

• Backup QB Jaren Hall’s 19-yard pass to starting QB Zach Wilson

• Defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku’s 1-yard TD run set up by DT Khyiris Tonga’s goal-line block

Cougars on the air

No. 22 Washington (2-1) at BYU (2-1)

LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo

Saturday, 1:30 p.m. (MDT)


Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM