Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The future of BYU football

Football Scoop says BYU is strongly considering Navy's Ken Niumatalolo. A look at BYU's options at Head Coach reveals better options than you might have guessed considering that the head coach has to be a member of the LDS Church and also willing to coach at a place with unusual parameters for the football program.

Amongst those parameters are the requirements that players don't drink alcohol or engage in extra-marital sex, which are some of football players' favorite pastimes for blowing off steam. This is undoubtedly a disadvantage in recruiting talent that isn't already Mormon, yet the numbers of LDS athletes out there in in the world are shockingly high so it doesn't hurt the team as badly as you might think.

Niumatalolo has been coaching at Navy, which also has some tough, self-imposed restrictions including the need for great academics as well as weight limits and fitness requirements that don't lend themselves to producing massive, fast-twitch football players. Given that he's used to working under difficult parameters and a Pacific Islander who's a major figure in that community, which is the source of much of BYU's talent, it would seem he's a phenomenal cultural fit for the Cougars' football program.

The problem, as the Salt Lake City Tribune's Kragthorpe laments, is that Niumatalolo is an adherent of Paul Johnson's "flexbone" triple-option offense, which is markedly different from the offenses that BYU has traditionally relied on in years past.

As it happens, BYU is the place where the modern Air Raid offense found much of its inspiration, although for a long time what BYU was able to accomplish throwing the football was dismissed as something that was only possible because the school is loaded with 24 year old married dudes who possessed the discipline and know-how to run all of the timing routes and concepts.

Eventual 49er great Steve Young was groomed in this system and unleashed Manziel-esque hell heck on the Mormons' foes back in the 80s, throwing for 3900 yards, 33 TDs, 9.1 ypa, and adding 400+ rushing yards in 1983 when he finished 2nd in the Heisman voting.

The more recent Bronco Mendenhall era of BYU was more about capturing the Islander identity of the program's talent pool, specifically with odd front defenses that were designed to create havoc and pressure up front while asking their athletically-limited DBs to play bend don't break behind them.

Bronco struggled to build good offenses before making the move towards a wide-open spread attack built largely off the veer-option that was deadly when Taysom Hill was healthy and average when he wasn't. Then this year, after Hill's inevitable early season injury, they turned the offense over to 22 year old true freshman Tanner Mangum and instead emphasized a spread passing attack more akin to their 80's roots.

It really appeared as though the next few years of Mangum-BYU football were going to be very interesting as the Cougars combined a skilled passing game with a premier throwing talent with a Bronco defense. But then Mendenhall left for Virginia and here we are.

The big question for Niumatalolo is not whether his triple-option attack would work at BYU, there's no question that it would. The triple-option is about having smart OL, a smart, tough, good decision maker at QB, and some backs who can do damage on the edge.

The Cougars have typically had an abundance of tough, heady players on offense and should be able to find one or two guys with explosiveness in a given year. Defensively Niumatalolo would have to find a good coach to match Mendenhall's tradition but the pieces are there to continue to field tough units.

The question is how would the program adjust and what is the opportunity cost of going in the flexbone direction when the roster is designed for Mangum to find success the traditional BYU way?

It should be interesting to see what direction they go with this hire.

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