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Why BYU’s run game could pay dividends for quarterback Zach Wilson

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BYU quarterback Zach Wilson looks towards the game clock from the line during the first half of an NCAA college football game against the Navy , Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Annapolis, Md.

AP Photo/Tommy Gilligan

PROVO — Analyzing college football in the age of a pandemic can be a chore.

How many ways can you break down a win or a loss without schedule continuity, contingencies, quarantines, cancellations, rescheduling? How good is BYU’s offensive line?  Pretty good, one might think. But how would it have done against Utah and the rest of the schedule that disappeared?

We will never know.

But against Navy on Labor Day in front of a national TV audience, BYU looked pretty solid on both sides of the line.

I asked QB guru John Beck, former Cougar and NFL quarterback, now a throw motion expert in San Diego, what he thought of Zach Wilson, the protection he got, and the running game that gained more than 300 yards.

He was impressed.

Beck said a run game like the one BYU displayed against an undersized Navy front is the kind a QB likes because it keeps his uniform pristine and his body healthy.

“Any offense that can establish a run game like that really puts the defense in a bind because they can’t manage the box,” Beck said Tuesday.

Beck said it was very clear after the first series against Navy that BYU had total control of the box. It just remains to be seen in the analysis business if BYU’s offensive line can duplicate that kind of performance the rest of the season.

“Any offense that can establish a run game like that really puts the defense in a bind because they can’t manage the box.” — John Beck

Against some, perhaps most of this reconstituted schedule, maybe.

“If you look at how defensive coordinators usually align their front, it is to stop the run and the guys they have in the box have responsibilities the way they line up to stop the run,” said Beck. “So, once you start as an offense, you try to establish a dominate running game and when you do you’ve now put their game plan on stopping the run in a real bind and they have to start making adjustments. 

“If they can’t stop the primary function of their defense to stop or slow down the run or at least contain it to some degree, then your offense can really do so much more. The defense can’t pressure as much on drop-back situations.”

This becomes even more clear in third-down situations, and if you can run, it’s likely your quarterback won’t get hit that much, said Beck.

BYU looked every part of a bully against Navy in its 55-3 win on the East Coast.

What is going to be most interesting in the weeks to come is finding out if BYU’s offensive line can continue to play at that level of intensity and with such force.

It’s not like BYU has a great choice of who it can prove itself against, and this open-ended theory that maybe this is one of the better offensive lines in more than a decade in Provo will be a matter of speculation and conjecture.

We have to put BYU’s ability to bully in perspective.

Could that be done against Minnesota, Stanford, Utah and Arizona State?

No?

But what if, against some of them, it did?

Offensive line coach Eric Mateos said he wasn’t as liberal with his game grades as some have been.

But it looked like most of his starters did grade over 95%.

If you break down the film, the fight in the trenches on both sides was so disastrous for Navy that it looked out of whack.

Conversely, when an offense can’t run the ball, the quarterback is almost sure to get hit more during the course of a game. “It’s that way at every level of the game, high school, college and the NFL,” Beck said.

What was very apparent in the BYU-Navy game is the Cougars’ offense could do about anything it wanted and it made things easier for Wilson, who had an efficiency rating over 200 without finishing the third quarter.

“In that kind of situation, you really can do about anything because the defense has no answer,” said Beck.

Is BYU that good on offense and ready to show it against the rest of its schedule by running the ball with great effectiveness?

We’ll see.

Sitting in the Sand Trap restaurant in the clubhouse of Hobble Creek Golf Course Tuesday afternoon, I ran into a couple of lifetime-type football coaches and athletic directors from Orem and Salem high schools.

“I don’t think BYU’s O-line is as good as it looked nor Navy’s defense as bad as it looked,” said Paul Clark. “But I do think they have great talent and depth.”

Said Steve Downey, “I do believe that BYU has a chance to have two or three linemen drafted and that hasn’t happened in a very long time. I do think they are pretty good.”