Baylor’s new “RVO” offense

Ian Boyd

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Year one went about as poorly as it was likely to go for Dave Aranda. The pandemic crushed their ability to have a full offseason and install new systems or really settle in and establish the new program. Ever adaptable, Aranda worked things out on defense and still put together a solid unit, but at the end of the year he hit reset elsewhere in the program by replacing the top of the offensive staff AND his strength coach.

Baylor’s 2020 offense was an absolute mess, imperfectly blending Larry Fedora’s smashmouth spread with Jorge Munoz’s pro-style spread passing attack and then attempting to put it together with a nearly perpetually dinged up Charlie Brewer and hodge podge offensive line. I was expecting the Bears to go one direction or the other but instead Aranda replaced both Fedora and Munoz with BYU’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, Jeff Grimes. Then, after a snafu trying to hire a former Grimes assistant named Ryan Pugh, Grimes also brought young BYU coach Eric Mateos who’d been with Grimes in Utah.

Jeff Grimes and the BYU system

There’s a few things you’d expect from a Dave Aranda offense, simply based on his background as a coach. One is for him to put a premium on versatility, given his own willingness to go back and forth between odd and even fronts based on his program’s roster in a given year. Aranda has specific tactics he likes, schemes he likes, and yet will make massive changes to the defense as needed in order to maximize the effectiveness of his players. Most every coach says they value such things but very few really show the commitment and likely most of them don’t even have the capacity to really flex between fronts and schemes like Aranda has done.

The other trait you’d expect from Aranda is a reflection of the breakthrough success LSU had in 2019 when they won the National Championship. The Tigers were extremely aggressive, using spread systems to push defensive structures past their breaking point and aiming to score at every opportunity.

Neither of those two dimensions are obvious from the new direction for the Baylor offense. When Dave Aranda hired Jeff Grimes to replace the Larry Fedora/Jorge Munoz committee, the BYU coordinator promised to install a “RVO offense.” The acronym doesn’t really work, as it’s supposed to stand for Reliably Violent Offense, so when you say “RVO offense” it’s redundant. Still, fairly catchy.

Interestingly, the BYU offense under Grimes was largely built around the outside zone play, which is not the sort of smashmouth scheme you’d expect to find as the underpinning of a “reliably violent offense.” It’s also not necessarily flexible, at least not in terms of what it asks from the offensive line.

Grimes and BYU took off in 2020 with their outside zone offense with lead back Tyler Allgeier turning 150 carries into 1130 yards at 7.5 ypc with 13 touchdowns while quarterback Zach Wilson added 254 yards at 3.6 ypc and 10 more rushing touchdowns. They ran an awful lot of outside zone, sometimes from 11 personnel, other times from 12, and sometimes from spread sets with RPO options for Wilson to throw on the backside of the play.

The Cougars had two major factors working in their favor in building this offense. One was Zach Wilson, whom some are ranking as the top quarterback option in the 2021 NFL draft, and the other was their offensive line:

BYU 2020 offensive line.jpg

There’s a lot of information packed in there which is essential to understanding how BYU’s 2020 offense broke through in a major way.

First, some other peripheral facts. In 2019 the Cougars went 7-6 and their lead running back was Lopini Katoa, with 85 carries for 358 yards at 4.2 ypc with four rushing touchdowns. They had many of the same offensive linemen as they would in 2020, everyone but Barrington was a returning starter in 2020. Also, the relative strength of the BYU schedule was drastically lessened from 2019 to 2020.

In 2019 they drew four Power 5 opponents while also facing Boise State, San Diego State, and Hawaii teams that won at least 10 games. In 2020 they cobbled together a 12-game season with seven home games, zero Power 5 opponents, and only five opponents who finished the year above .500. Far and away their toughest opponent on the year was the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, who defeated the Cougars 22-17.

So the highly experienced Cougars with their well-aged offensive line and returning starter and ultra talented quarterback blew through a historically easy schedule in the COVID-altered season.

Here’s another factor we have to note since it’s come to light.


It appears Grimes’ play-calling duties were reduced before the offense really started to click and take off. Without more study I couldn’t tell you what changed, but certainly the 11-1 Cougars of 2020 did their damage with a simple scheme emphasizing good O-line play on wide zone and then Wilson’s unique abilities.

The Cougar offensive front was built from mostly 24-year olds who were returning starters in the outside zone system, all of which had been leaner guys in high school that took multiple years at BYU to lift and eat their way to 300 pounds. All of them also had the two-year Mormon mission, save for transfer Tristen Hoge who still managed to get to be around 24 years old by sitting out a year. The mission year doesn’t lead to greater physical development but it does lead to overall emotional maturation. Tackling a football offseason program as a 20-year old who’s spent the last two years literally living on mission is different from doing so as an 18-year old.

Now you don’t need 24-year olds to master outside zone, but it sure doesn’t hurt. The scheme is about lateral movement off the ball and cohesion across the line between the players as they trade off defensive linemen. You’re all moving laterally and trying to move gaps and create creases with movement the defensive line can’t fit properly. Chemistry is essential and it’s an offensive line scheme famous for turning undersized but quick-moving players into a dominating run game unit.

BYU’s crew were all leaner, quicker guys who needed to get into their 20s to reach 300 pounds and who’d been developed in this system for years by Eric Mateos and Jeff Grimes.

For comparison’s sake, Texas installed outside zone as their main scheme for the 2020 season (coming off a pandemic offseason! Why did you do that??) and had very mixed results. They were very inconsistent with it until the end of the year when A) they started facing some weaker competition and B) they began to play more athletic young linemen due to injury. The primary factors were starting freshman center Jake Majors, who excelled at reaching the opposite shoulder of defensive tackles with quick lateral steps, and also more snaps for 5-star running back Bijan Robinson.

BYU’s success also certainly had something to do with Zach Wilson, who boosted their offense in two very meaningful ways. His arm strength is elite for the college level and the Cougars ran a lot of passing concepts in which he’d simply throw comebacks and stop routes outside where college offenses necessarily tend to yield space. Secondly, he has elite quickness for the college game as well and would regularly scramble or buy time if the protection was there. Having the arm strength to reach the easy candy outside and the legs to make things work which otherwise wouldn’t are more or less the two main physical traits everyone looks for in a quarterback and Wilson had them.

Translating the RVO to Baylor

When Baylor made this hire I immediately thought back to the 2017 season, Matt Rhule’s first in Waco. Rhule also brought a “pro-style” emphasis on outside zone, which I noted at the time was an awkward fit with the sorts of offensive line recruits Art Briles had been emphasizing.

Under Briles, Baylor ran the “veer and shoot” offense which spaced defenses to their breaking point with ultra wide receiver splits and then mixed in heavy RPO and play-action components to force defenses to stay spread apart. Then they’d run very direct, downhill run schemes with the biggest offensive linemen Briles could find supported by the biggest, bludgeoning tight ends they could put on the field. Lateral agility wasn’t it, Baylor was running inside zone, iso, and power right at people after first ensuring there were as few of them directly in front of the running back as possible.

Anyways, Baylor was terrible on offense in 2017 and the following year scrapped their emphasis on outside zone for the tight zone play, featuring large Briles holdovers Blake Blackmar (6-5, 330) and Pat Lawrence (6-6, 310) on the right side of the line.

Larry Fedora maintained the emphasis on inside zone and power for Dave Aranda in 2020, although they did mix in outside zone at times. Jason Moore, their center, was far and away their best blocker on outside zone due to his quickness at 6-3, 300 but he chose medical retirement after the season. The Bears will be replacing him with Vanderbilt transfer Grant Miller, who does have reps in the system but isn’t a world beater in the wide zone concept.

Baylor’s starting offensive line for 2021 will need to shake out in spring and fall camp, but suffice to say they have not been making deposits in the outside zone account for the last few seasons. It’d be silly to expect them to excel with the play in year one.

As for quarterback, it’s also unclear who will receive snaps for the Bears but it’s unlikely they’ll get Zach Wilson play either in the improv game or pushing the ball outside the hash marks against the 1-on-1 matchups they are nearly certain to get.

BYU did the vast majority of their damage in the passing game with RPOs attached to the wide zone play, or else their own version of the mesh-sit play everyone else runs:


The BYU version is a bit unique and reminds me of what I’ve seen teams do with “shallow cross.” A fellow named Corley Ward broke it down over at 247 and his article is a good read for Baylor fans, along with the accompanying piece on their wide zone.

The gist of it is as follows:

BYU mesh-sit outside option.jpg

On this example (and many others), Zach Wilson didn't even go through the normal progression for the mesh concept (wheel, X-shallow, sit route) but used the outside option route (drawn here as just a deep out) as an "alert" and just threw it if there was anything there. Usually there was something there. Defenses tended to give the Cougars a lot of space out there to work in with off coverage, so it rounded into a deep out pretty darn often. This was the foundation of their passing offense and a big reason Wilson is getting so much draft buzz right now.

Defenses would yield space outside against wide receivers Dax Milne and Gunner Romney, they’d run deep outs in open grass, and then Wilson would rifle the ball out there for substantial gains. It’s a good system for a college offense IF you can execute it because most college offenses cannot and defenses struggle to adjust. The UCF Knights were probably one of the only teams to man up their receivers outside and BYU adjusted nicely by throwing open wheel routes and crossers to the tight ends and receivers.

Baylor has more talented receivers than BYU, but last season they were on the other extreme end of the quarterback arm talent spectrum. Gerry Bohanon, Jacob Zeno, and incoming quarterbacks Kyron Drones and C.J. Rogers all have stronger arms but haven’t shown anything on a college field yet. The Bears will likely need a different passing system to optimize their roster than running option routes outside the far hash marks. Even at BYU, it was common for a situation like third and five to see the “reliably violent” run game get the call with a wide zone call.

The Bears have talent on the roster, more than they’ve shown for really either of the last two seasons, but they’ve just hired an offensive coordinator who emphasizes precise skill development in pro-style concepts. A quick turnaround would be unexpected unless Grimes has some Aranda-esque versatility we haven’t seen yet from the longtime O-line coach.
 

stilesbbq

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Oct 2, 2019
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Really reads like this coaching change was Aranda's chance to succeed at Baylor and he most likely screwed it up. I am not sure who he should have hired instead but yikes