It’s not clear precisely which BYU football player has carried the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line the most this fall — but Cougar junior wide receiver Gunner Romney might have that honor.
In his case, however, it’s not necessarily exactly how he would’ve wanted things to go.
Romney has found himself with the dubious distinction of getting stopped just short of the goal line on a number of plays this year, including three such plays in BYU’s 51-17 victory at Boise State on Nov. 6.
But Romney said during Monday’s press conference that he is able to laugh about it more easily because the Cougar offense has still been able to consistently turn those drives into touchdowns.
“All those 1-yard-line catches don’t really mean anything because we are scoring anyways,” Romney said with a grin. “So I’m cool with it.”
Red-zone scoring efficiency was one of the areas the players and coaches mentioned a lot during the offseason and that focus appears to have had a big impact this fall.
“That is one of the main differences from this year’s team compared to last year’s team,” Romney said. “We were able to move the ball last year but couldn’t punch it in when it came down to it. This year our red zone percentage was a huge emphasis in the offseason. The fact that it is all paying off and we are doing pretty amazing things in the red zone, it’s really exciting.”
Here are the comparative numbers for the last four years in this key statistical category:
- : 13 games, 28-of-38 scoring in the red zone (74%), 17-of-38 touchdowns (45%)
- : 13 games, 44-of-52 scoring in the red zone (85%), 36-of-52 touchdowns (69%)
- : 13 games, 44-of-60 scoring in the red zone (73%), 31-of-60 touchdowns (52%)
- : 8 games, 39-of-43 scoring in the red zone (91%), 34-of-43 touchdowns (79%)
Those numbers have been skewed a little in 2020 because BYU had two victories where the offense chose to run out the clock inside the red zone instead of running up the score (although that might have skewed the stats in other years as well).
Either way, that is a phenomenal level of improvement and the Cougar offensive players are proud of the efficiency they’ve been able to demonstrate.
“When you have a super-long drive and march down but don’t put it in, it kind of takes the wind out of you a little bit,” Romney said. “It feels like it was all for nothing. When you go down and it’s almost automatic that you are scoring, it’s really fun.”
BYU junior offensive lineman Brady Christensen agreed that the level of frustration on the offense has diminished significantly because it is seeing the results on most of its drives.
“It was sometimes so frustrating last year,” Christensen said. “We’d have a long drive and then we would stall. That takes it out of you because you are grinding so hard and when you don’t get any points out of it, it’s crushing. The fact that we have been able to score consistently — and score touchdowns — it helps with the momentum and the mojo of the team. It’s been so huge this year.”
BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said during Monday’s Coordinator’s Corner show his unit is confident it can score every time it gets the ball.
“Red zone success is something we have put a lot of energy into,” Grimes said on the show. “My first year here three years ago it was one of the better things we did. Even though we weren’t as high in total offense as we would like to be, we scored when we got in the red zone. Last year we took a dramatic step back in that area. We really put the pressure on our players to recognize that we needed to score touchdowns when we got in the red zone. Ultimately the game comes down to scoring points when you are in position to do so and I’m really proud of our guys for being able to do that.”
With the offense doing as well as it has, Grimes said he almost wishes the Cougars didn’t have a bye week this week before taking on North Alabama on Nov. 21 at LaVell Edwards Stadium (1 p.m. MT, BYUtv).
“When you are in rhythm like we are and have the momentum, you just kind of want to keep playing,” Grimes said on the show. “Things are rolling for us. The guys are enjoying playing together and we feel like we can keep it rolling.”