How BYU weatherproofed its offense for occasions like Saturday night’s tilt with San Diego State
BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes built his attack to handle all kinds of weather conditions. Saturday’s game against San Diego State at LaVell Edwards Stadium will show if the plan worked
Having grown up in Albuquerque before choosing to play his college football in “America’s Finest City,” San Diego State running back Jordan Byrd says he misses the snowy, cold weather of New Mexico.
The junior, who doubles as an outstanding kick returner, almost certainly will get a taste of his home state Saturday night (8 p.m., ESPN2) when the 4-3 Aztecs square off with 9-1 BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. Weather forecasts for the first December home game in BYU football history call for the first major snowstorm of the winter, with temperatures dropping to single digits.
“One of the things I have tried to build here is an offense that could be weather proof, an offense that could play in any sort of conditions. I think we are versatile enough that we could play if it is 85 and sunny with no wind. Or we can play if it is 15 degrees and the wind is blowing sideways with snow or rain in your face.” — BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes
It was a head-scratcher on Oct. 2 when BYU and SDSU officials announced the game, originally scheduled to be played Nov. 14, would be played this weekend, and it appears those fears were well-founded.
Only family members of the players and coaches of both teams will be allowed into the venue; they should prepare for some of the most brutal weather conditions in stadium history, reminiscent perhaps of the late-November rivalry game won 3-0 by Utah in 2003.
The difference is that game was played in the middle of the day, not between 8 p.m. and midnight. San Diego State isn’t complaining, however.
“It is going to be a really good game in the cold,” said Byrd, who had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in SDSU’s 29-17 win over Colorado State last week in Carson, California. “A lot of guys on the sideline will be kinda cold. But other than that, it is going to be really good. The feeling of coldness, I miss that.”
San Diego State defeated BYU 13-3 last November at SDCCU Stadium and will try to win consecutive games against the Cougars for the first time ever. Although they are two touchdown underdogs, this might be the run-oriented Aztecs’ best hope to end that futility, with few fans in the stands and run-favorable conditions.
BYU is 16-2 against SDSU in games played in Provo, but is coming off a heartbreaking 22-17 loss to Coastal Carolina that ruined its perfect season and New Year’s Six bowl hopes. The Cougars have to guard against an emotional letdown, coach Kalani Sitake said Monday.
“We see the film (of San Diego State),” Sitake said. “They are a tough team, a well-coached team. We are excited to play them. It is going to be a lot of fun.”
Even in the snow?
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson believes so.
When weekend weather reports came out early in the week, Wilson sent a text message to the entire team telling coaches and players alike “it is going to be fun” and to be ready for it on Saturday.
“I think he set the tone with our guys before I even had to say anything,” offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said.
Grimes said when he replaced Ty Detmer as OC in 2018 that he started planning for games in all kinds of weather.
“One of the things I have tried to build here is an offense that could be weatherproof, an offense that could play in any sort of conditions,” he said. “I think we are versatile enough that we could play if it is 85 and sunny with no wind. Or we can play if it is 15 degrees and the wind is blowing sideways with snow or rain in your face. I think we are built to handle those conditions.”
Part of BYU’s winning formula this season has been avoiding turnovers. The Cougars committed three turnovers in last year’s loss to SDSU, and also missed two of three field goal attempts.
“To me, there is never an excuse for turning the ball over, even in (bad) weather,” Grimes said. “So we don’t talk about being extra careful. We just talk about doing what we always do in securing the ball.”
Giveaways are especially painful when the opponent is controlling the ball for long stretches, as Coastal did last week, Wilson said. It could be argued that a third-quarter fumble was the most devastating play of the game against the Chanticleers.
“This is another week where we might face a team that might be the same way,” Wilson said. “Those guys might hold onto the ball, play aggressive defense. So we have to be prepared for the exact same thing.”
While there’s no question BYU’s offense and special teams have improved this year — Wilson is among the best quarterbacks in the country and kicker Jake Oldroyd is a perfect 11 for 11 on field goals — the Aztecs are as stingy as ever.
They held CSU to 265 yards, forced two turnovers and recorded 11 tackles for loss. They are third in the nation in total defense (269.1) and fourth in third-down conversion defense (27.3%).
“I remember that game vividly,” said BYU receiver Dax Milne. “I think everyone who was part of that game really wants to go out there and redeem ourselves from last year. We really respect their defense. They’ve got a lot of experience and they’re really aggressive, really tough.”
And really ready to play in the snow — they say.
Cougars on the air
BYU (9-1) vs. San Diego State (4-3)
Saturday, 8 p.m.
LaVell Edward Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM