Pick Six Previews: An analytical look back on BYU’s season on the bye week

Pick Six Previews: An analytical look back on BYU's season on the bye week

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

PROVO — BYU had to wait until mid-November for its bye week, and they head into the break with a 5-5 record.

Hidden in that .500 record was quite the roller-coaster season. BYU opened up with a preseason rankings for the first time since 2009 and proved they deserved it by beating the defending Big 12 champs in No. 9 Baylor in an energy-packed LaVell Edwards Stadium.

The roadtrip loss at Oregon snapped BYU’s five-game winning streak against the Pac-12, but the Cougars rallied to a 4-1 record heading into a pair of October tests against preseason-ranked Power Five teams.

Not only did BYU lose both, they also dropped the other two October games to finish with a winless month and place bowl season in serious jeopardy. The defensive collapses against Arkansas and Liberty were enough for head coach Kalani Sitake to take over the play-calling duties and control of the defense.

BYU won on the blue turf on Saturday by beating Boise State 31-28 in dramatic fashion, and essentially clinched bowl eligibility due to the upcoming FCS opponent representing the team’s sixth win. As part of my weekly series covering the 2022 BYU season, I’ll take the bye week as an opportunity to review how the Cougars rank in several of my metrics at Pick Six Previews.

Game Grader: 46th of 66 Power Five (compared to 24th in 2021)

Game Grader measures statistical dominance and adjusts for opponent strength. BYU reached as high as No. 10 after the win over Baylor, but it has been a steady decline since. The month of October saw BYU go 0-4, with a decisive average yardage margin of -180 yards per game. The 27-point loss to non-AQ Liberty scored just a 6.4, which for reference is BYU’s lowest Game Grade in the past five seasons.

Offensive percentiles: 17th of 66 Power Five (compared to 13th in 2021)

When the “total offense” stat is presented in yards per game, it doesn’t tell the whole story: 500 yards gained against Georgia is much different than 500 yards gained against Vanderbilt; additionally, 500 yards gained on 80 snaps is less impressive than 500 yards gained on 50 snaps.

Instead, my offensive percentiles evaluate on a per-play basis and also adjust for opponent (defense) strength. BYU checks in, again, in the Top 20 like last season, led by star quarterback Jaren Hall, a playmaking corps of receivers, and strong pass protection from the offensive line.

Defensive percentiles: 54th of 66 Power Five (compared to 50th in 2021)

The defensive version of the above metric shows a slight decline for BYU year-over-year. I had called for a significant improvement here, as BYU brought back the most defensive experience in America: 15 of the top 16 tacklers. But defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki struggled to adjust as the season progressed and eventually Sitake took over.

BYU failed to get off the field on third downs (117th nationally) and their bend-don’t-break approach started to wear down.

Offensive line run push: 63rd of 131 FBS teams (compared to 22nd in 2021)

This stat takes the normal yards per carry number and focuses in on the opportunities created by the offensive line within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Beyond 10 yards, you could argue those yards are more earned by the backs’ playmaking ability in the open field.

Again, this is an area that I thought would be a strength for BYU since the offensive line’s entire two-deep returned and was one of the only lines of 2021 to excel both in run push and pass protection.

Offensive line pass protection: 14th of 131 FBS teams (compared to 11th in 2021)

BYU is currently in the Top 15 in sack rate by allowing just 10 sacks out of 333 pass attempts. That 3.3% is 14th in FBS and eighth in Power Five. This was an expected strength with four-year starting left guard Clark Barrington earning a spot on Pick Six Previews’ preseason All-America team, and three-year starting left tackle Blake Freeland drawing NFL attention.

Explosive offense: 24th of 131 FBS teams (compared to 20th in 2021)

The BYU offense remained in the Top 25 here thanks to Hall’s vertical passing. This stat reflects more about the offense’s style — the Cougars take their shots in the downfield pass game and hit on them more frequently than most. BYU leads Power Five with 18 pass plays of 40+ yards and is also in the Top 10 with 28 pass plays of 30+ yards.

Explosive defense: 57th of 131 FBS teams (compared to 25th in 2021)

BYU’s defensive strategy the past few years has been “bend don’t break.” Often, they only rush three linemen and drop eight defenders into pass coverage with the goal of limiting long-yardage plays, and forcing teams to take the short-yard options.

This stat measures how frequently a defense contains those “explosive” long-yardage plays and given BYU’s defensive scheme, you’d expect to see them in the Top 25 like last year. Too many coverage breakdowns have dropped them 32 spots from last season.

Negative play rate (defense): 124th of 131 FBS teams (compared to 98th in 2021)

This one is a no surprise. Given their approach, BYU rarely blitzes more than three or four rushers, and accordingly is not making plays in the backfield. Negative play rate measures the frequency of plays made behind the line of scrimmage (sacks and tackles for loss) in proportion to number of snaps faced.

Opponent QB rating (defense): 114th of 131 FBS teams (compared to 54th in 2021)

I prefer this stat when discussing passing defense because it puts the stats into a per-play perspective. Giving up 300 passing yards may sound below-average, but against an air raid offense that attempts 60 passes that game, it becomes impressive. Here in the all-encompassing pass defense measure, BYU is among the nation’s worst.

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Brett Ciancia is the owner of Pick Six Previews, a college football preview magazine graded as the “Most Accurate Season Preview” since 2012 (via Stassen). Ciancia was named a Heisman Trophy voter in 2019 and was invited to the FWAA’s All-America Team selection committee in 2020.

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