Pick Six Previews: A statistical look back on BYU's 2022 season

BYU quarterback Jaren Hall (3) slides with the ball while playing the East Carolina Pirates in an NCAA college on football game Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, in Provo, Utah. The Pirates won 27-24.

BYU quarterback Jaren Hall (3) slides with the ball while playing the East Carolina Pirates in an NCAA college on football game Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, in Provo, Utah. The Pirates won 27-24. (Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)

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PROVO — BYU closed out the 11-year independence era the same way it ended the Mountain West era back in 2010: a New Mexico Bowl victory.

The win capped off BYU's fifth straight winning season — 16th of the past 17 years — and provides positive momentum as the Cougars enter the biggest transition offseason in school history. Not only is BYU stepping up to Power Five competition as part of the expanded 14-team Big 12, but the roster itself is due for large-scale turnover in the next few months.

Before moving into spring ball, the post-spring transfer round, and fall camp, I'll review how the Cougars ranked in several of my 2022 metrics at Pick Six Previews.

Game Grader: 50th 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 September win over Baylor, but it was a steady decline since. The four-game losing streak in October (-180 yards per game margin) sank BYU down to its lowest season grade since the 4-9 campaign in 2017. The 2022 season finished as the second lowest-rated BYU team over their entire independence era.

Offensive percentiles: 24th 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. For example, 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 gained on 50 snaps.

Instead, my offensive percentiles evaluate on a per-play basis, and also adjust for opponent (defense) strength. BYU checked in again in the Top 25 like last season, led by star quarterback Jaren Hall, a playmaking corps of receivers, and strong pass protection from the offensive line. Despite the win and gutsy rushing performance by Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters, the Hall-less bowl game marked BYU's worst offensive percentile game in five seasons.

Defensive percentiles: 46th of 66 Power Five (compared to 50th in 2021)

The defensive version of the above metric shows a minimal improvement for BYU year-over-year. In my 2022 preview magazine, 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 head coach Kalani Sitake took over.

That transition, and the late bye week, combined to help BYU rise 10 spots in this metric over the final few games. The bowl win was BYU's second highest defensive percentile game this season (Baylor) and featured the game-clinching goal-line stand in the final seconds as the exclamation point.

Offensive Line run push: 19th 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 back's playmaking ability in the open field.

BYU's offensive line made huge gains from their middle-of-the-pack midseason ranking (63rd) to surge into the national top 20. This was a veteran unit that excelled in both run push and pass protection for the second straight season.

Offensive Line pass protection: 12th of 131 FBS teams (compared to 11th in 2021)

BYU, again, placed in the national Top 15 in sack rate by allowing just 13 sacks out of 392 pass attempts. That 3.3% rate is 12th in FBS and sixth in Power Five.

Explosive offense: 22nd 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 placed in the Top 25 in 20+ pass plays, 30+ pass plays, and 20+ rushes.

Explosive defense: 35th 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 dropped 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, this is an area they need to dominate. At midseason, they were ranked just 60th due to allowing too many coverage breakdowns. With the change at coordinator, BYU climbed back to a respectable 35th national rank.

Negative play rate (Defense): 130th of 131 FBS teams (compared to 98th in 2021)

This one is 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): 112th 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 finished 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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