BYU Football: Breaking Down The Pro-Style Offense

By Darian Everett
September 09, 2011 12:54 am
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There's been a lot of talk lately about BYU and their new pro-style offense.  But how many people know exactly what that is?  What's different now?  How is it supposed to help the Cougars?  What are the advantages and disadvantages?  Here's a short article to help answer some of those questions.

First, it is called a pro-style offense because it resembles what most NFL teams run on their offenses.  And it's not too complicated; the main characteristic of a pro-style offense is the quarterback takes snaps under center (he stands directly behind the center and the ball is exchanged hand to hand.)  Also their default personal on the field is (and this is not a set-in-stone rule, you're always going to see variations, but this is default) five offensive linemen, one quarterback, one tight-end, one running back, one full-back, and two wide receivers.  Also, there is a strong emphasis to have offensive plays run balanced evenly between running and passing (50/50.)

Now, if you watch most college football games, you will see a lot of differences from what I just described.  A lot of the time you'll see the quarterback line up in the shotgun (he'll be standing about seven yards behind the center, and will catch the snap in the air) or maybe even in the pistol (a newer offensive style where the quarterback stands about three and a half yards back from center.)  You'll see as many as five receivers on the field at a time.  You might see two quarterbacks, or no quarterbacks (the wildcat formation.)  You'll see a lot of teams that rely mostly on the pass-game (Lavell Edwards teams are a great example) and some that rely almost exclusively on the run (like Navy and Air Force.)  These are the differences between pro-style offenses and other college type offenses.  Most college programs do not run the pro-style offense anymore.  Why not, and why does BYU?

There are a lot of advantages to running a pro-style offense, but it's also not easy; you have to have the right personnel, the right coaches, and most importantly, the right kind of team mentality.  But first I'll explain the big advantages to running a pro-style offense.

Example; you have the quarterback under center.  Behind him you have the running-backs lined up.  The ball is snapped.  The quarterback runs backwards and hands off to a running back, who then runs straight up the middle, where hopefully his offensive line has opened up a good hole.  The defensive linebackers run forward to try and stop that run.  But what if it's a pass play?  The linebackers drop back into pass-coverage to cover receivers and zones.  This is all well and good, however, what if they're not sure what play is coming?

This is called play-action, and it's a huge part of a pro-style offense.  With the quarterback always under center, the linebackers don't know if the ball has been handed off, or if it's going to be a pass; at least for a second.  But that second of hesitation is exactly what the quarterback needs.  Now his wide-receivers have a second head start running in man-to-man coverage, and when the linebackers realize it's actually a pass play, they have to turn and run to try and get back to help cover, but usually the play is over before they can get there. 

To get play-action to be effective, and thus a pro-style offense, your team has to be able to run the ball up the center of the line.  And this relies on having a great offensive line, and running backs who are smash-right-through-you, run-over-everybody type of players.  And this is also the team mentality that is needed.  Pro-style offense is a team saying "we are stronger than you, and we are going to impose our will on you, and there's nothing you can do about it."  It's strength versus strength.  It's not about trick plays or speedy guys running around the outside for big gains.  It's about three or four yards and a cloud of dust, again and again and again.  It's tough guy style of football.

Once a team respects your ability to run the ball, they have to send more and more personnel forward to try and stop it.  This opens up play-action, and gives your team a chance to make big yards through the air.  So if your team can dominate the line of scrimmage (and so far BYU has done just that) then a pro-style offense is very difficult to defend.

There are other advantages to running a pro-style offense.  For one, with the ball directly in the quarterback's hand from the moment it's snapped, he can keep his eyes up-field to read coverages, whereas if he's in shotgun, he's got to keep his eye on the ball for a crucial second, giving the defense a chance to change their coverage without the quarterback noticing right away, giving the advantage back to the defense.  Another thing you'll see a lot is that linebackers will lose track of running-backs during play-action, giving the quarterback a good open target underneath.

BYU has what it needs to run a pro-style offense.  It has a dominating offensive line that averages about 310 pounds.  The Cougar running-backs are hard hitting, downhill running, bruising type of players.  The whole offense is tough.  Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz recently told the Austin Statesman, "They are known for throwing the ball, but they've become a run-over-you, physical, downhill, get in two back, pound you into submission team, and when they're done with that, they'll throw the football."

Sounds like high praise to me.

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By Darian Everett
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