Football can quickly turn into a game of inches, but for BYU’s new offensive line coach and run game coordinator TJ Woods, it’s always been about yards — and he wants four every time a Cougar gets a carry this fall.

“You have to be multiple (faceted) and do things differently to keep the defense off guard, but I also believe in being able to line up and run something successfully or at least efficient and efficient to us is a gain of four yards or gain a first down, based on the situation,” Woods told the “Y’s Guys” podcast. “You need to have something to hang your hat on when you can say, ‘Listen, here it comes. This is what we are doing, and we are still going to go get four yards.’”

Those words reflect an attitude that has been missing from the trenches at BYU since running back Tyler Allgeier left school early for the NFL after the 2021 season. The Cougars averaged 5.1 yards per carry during Allgeier’s record-setting run, including a 46% success rate on third downs and 62% on fourth downs.

Last year, with Aidan Robbins playing hurt, BYU struggled to get 3.5 yards per carry. The first-down conversion rates on third down dropped to 28% and to 50% on fourth down. Except for Oklahoma, when a healthy Robbins ran for 182 yards, the ground game was grounded.

The goal of four yards per carry might not sound like a lot, but on third and short, the ability to move the pile can become the difference between a touchdown or a field goal, extending a drive or sending in the punt team.

BYU punted 68 times last year compared to 40 when Allgeier and the offensive line were punishing the likes of Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, Virginia, USC, Washington State and Boise State.

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Understandably, the Cougars’ debut season in the Big 12 presented a tougher schedule without an Allgeier in the backfield, but not so tough that a few more yards on the ground wouldn’t have made a world of difference.

“I studied what happened last year and there are some things I think I can help to improve in that setting,” Woods said. “I’ve been through this multiple times. The No. 1 thing you can get caught up in is looking in the rear-view mirror instead of through the windshield. The rear-view mirror is a lot smaller than the windshield for a reason. We have to be pushing forward and worrying about what is in our control — the present, the now.”

BYU is different

Woods polished his craft at Utah State (twice), Wisconsin, Oregon State, Western Kentucky, UNLV (with Aidan Robbins) and last year at Georgia Southern. The road that brought him to BYU has made the journey worth every step.

“I think the kids BYU attracts (makes this place different). People make places and I’ve been a lot of places. I’ve seen a lot of good, bad and everything in between,” Woods said. “The pure joy for me is to be around good kids that welcome your investment.”

The Cougars lost junior Kingsley Suamataia to the NFL draft, but they return with size and experience at the offensive line led by center Connor Pay (6-5, 312), Brayden Keim (6-9, 310), Weylin Lapuaho (6-4, 310) and Caleb Etienne (6-8, 330). Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said they will look to add depth from the transfer portal when it opens Monday.

For now, it’s Woods’ job to work with what he has and make them better.

“We are going to treat and teach every player differently, but we are going to hold every player to the same standard. The standard will never change,” Woods said. “How we approach that standard, how we teach those things can change individually, but collectively when we take the field (Aug. 31), there is one standard, and we all have to operate under that.”

Ready to block

When the Cougars kick off against Southern Illinois, former receiver Keanu Hill will line up next to the big boys on the offensive line and Woods believes he will fit in just fine as BYU’s new tight end.

“I’m very confident in his ability to be physical and block in the run game. It’s a work in progress,” Woods said. “You don’t grow up practicing blocking in the park with your parents. It’s a process, but he’s doing great.”

In four years as a receiver, Hill caught 73 passes for 1,212 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6-foot-5, son of Texas Tech Hall of Famer Lloyd Hill, has already added 25 pounds to his frame during the offseason.

“He hates to lose, which is a huge quality in my opinion,” Woods said. “I think you will see him next to the tackles and blocking defensive ends and linebackers for sure.”

Happy with runners

As the run-game coordinator, Woods will fill a void that didn’t exist last season and will give Roderick an added voice in the play calling. The Cougars lost Robbins early to the NFL draft, but return sophomore LJ Martin, senior Hinckley Ropati and junior Miles Davis.

“I think the kids BYU attracts (makes this place different). People make places and I’ve been a lot of places. I’ve seen a lot of good, bad and everything in between. The pure joy for me is to be around good kids that welcome your investment.”

—  BYU offensive line coach TJ Woods

Martin led the BYU ground attack as a true freshman with 518 yards and four touchdowns. A knee injury sidelined Ropati last season and Davis played a limited role with 16 carries.

“I think we are pretty set with what we have,” said Woods when asked if BYU would add any running backs from the portal. “We like what we have. I believe in running backs by committee. You want to be physical when you have the football in your hand.”

Woods joins tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride as newcomers on the coaching staff are tasked with restoring an attitude of physicality to the offensive line and production to the tight end position. There is an obvious generation gap, but both coaches are well schooled in how to close it.

“All players want someone to believe in them. I think that’s something pretty sacred and important with today’s athlete,” Woods said. “With social media, there are more negatives than positives for these kids. It’s easy for guys of my generation to sit back and nit pick about some of the things they do that might not be ideal, but we didn’t have to deal with a lot of the struggles and challenges that they have today. The No. 1 thing is a belief.”

Woods believes he can make a difference — so does the head coach that hired him. In fact, Kalani Sitake is counting on it.

New BYU offensive line coach TJ Woods works with players during spring camp in Provo on March 16, 2024.
New BYU offensive line coach TJ Woods works with players during spring camp in Provo on March 16, 2024. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo