Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

When Lavell Edwards watched the Auburn-Arkansas game a few weeks ago, he was amused as he recalled the many times in the past when he heard Pat Dye, former Tigers' coach, chide coaches with high-octane offenses like Brigham Young.

"When y'all gonna' learn to play defense?" Dye would joke.

Edwards, in Athens to speak recently, said to the Bulldogs' Vince Dooley at dinner that he "thought about calling Pat after Auburn beat Arkansas 65-43."

Edwards has a point. Everybody is scoring points in abundance these days. Defenses are desperately trying to find a way to catch up with the spread and option games.

Shutouts, unless the game is a colossal mismatch, are as rare as a Mormon with a cocktail. Edwards notes that it usually takes about five years for the defense to catch up.

"When Darrell Royal came up with the wishbone at Texas," he began, "nobody had any idea initially how to stop it."

When the defense caught up with the wishbone, coaches began to abandon the formation because its liability became exposed.

If you got a couple of touchdowns or more behind in a game, the challenge of catching up was too great.

Edwards, whose 1984 BYU team won the national championship, always knew the importance of a run game, but he realized that he could not recruit the kind of players that the traditional Southeastern, Big Ten, and then Southwest Conference teams signed.

"For us," he began, "the forward pass was a great equalizer."

At one stretch he had five quarterbacks who were chosen All-America, and four of them have been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. Two of his signal callers, Jim McMahon with the Chicago Bears and Steve Young with the San Francisco 49ers, won Super Bowls.

Edwards's quarterbacks were not highly recruited but he developed them at BYU, and they flourished in his system. Young, for example, never threw a drop-back pass in high school. Edwards's first objective was to teach his talented quarterback discipline and patience. If the receivers were slow to find open spots, Young was quick to pull the ball down and run.

"It became hard to get the wide receivers to do their job of getting depth and separation when in the middle of their routes they looked up, and the quarterback is running the ball," Edwards said. "Young is standing there, and the defense is crashing around him. His instincts were to run the ball. But Steve was an unselfish player. He learned patience and became a great quarterback."

Edwards, who played in the single wing at Utah State, says that the spread formation today with the direct snap to the quarterback is pretty much akin to the old single wing.

"I think if Walter Camp were to come back today, he might say, 'Gee, you'd think you guys would have changed the game in a hundred years!'" Edwards said.

The forward pass and the option game has led to all the scoring, Edwards added.

"Then the spread comes along and a defensive coordinator's job has become a nightmare," Edwards said. "What Oregon is doing is amazing. They get a play off every 15 seconds. Their offense is a variation of the old Winged T."

When Edwards designed his offense at BYU, he was told he couldn't win by just throwing the football. He never abandoned the run, but his was a pass-happy offense. His quarterbacks threw over 11,000 passes for more than 100,000 yards and 635 touchdowns. BYU fans knew the Cougars were likely to win often, but what they appreciated, too, was BYU's ability to come from behind.

Like in the Holiday Bowl in 1980 when BYU rallied from a 45-25 deficit versus SMU with four minutes left. Trailing 45-39 with mere seconds left on the clock, McMahon threw a game-winning touchdown pass.

Brigham Young named its stadium for Edwards, as much of a tribute to him as a good and decent man as for winning a lot of games and championships.