On Saturday night in Provo the stage was set for a great end to rivalry week, but BYU failed to win for the fourth consecutive year, falling to the Utes 20-13. Obviously an emotional, rivalry game loss is harder to accept than others, but this one has left me downright confused. Leading up to the the game BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall had stated Utah lacked an “offensive identity” before bringing in co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson. The irony is that while BYU’s offense has had its own identity crisis for the last four seasons, none have been quite as confusing, nor caused quite the cause for concern as this offense.
So who is BYU? Against Virginia we saw an offense that ran a lot of plays, but didn’t score a lot of points. Inconsistent in the passing game and severely inexperienced on the offensive line, BYU lost to a team that frankly wasn’t very good. The next week Texas comes to town and BYU puts on an offensive clinic, at least running the ball. Then this happens. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what to call it. Words like pathetic, anemic, inept, or horrible don’t really apply. BYU actually outgained Utah in total yards (443 vs. 402), first downs (24 vs. 16), yards per completion (14.4 vs 11.4) and 3rd down conversions (5-21 vs. 1-14). BYU committed fewer penalties than Utah and didn’t turn the ball over until the waning minutes of the game. On paper, you’d think BYU should win this game!
But they didn’t. And that sucks. It sucks bad! It sucks for the seniors, most of all, who never got the feeling of walking off the battlefield from the Holy War as champions. Come to think of it, it sucks for the juniors and sophomores as well, as they will all have graduated by the time the Holy War is played again. It sucks for the coaches who can’t help but feel that Utah has their numbers. And it sucks for the fans, some of which (not pointing fingers, including at myself) put a little too much of their soul into Cougar football.
The offense is just as inconsistent as the stock market. One day you can’t lose and the next day you’re ready to jump from the tallest building. While BYU outperformed Utah in most statistical categories, they are so inconsistent when it matters most. BYU had five possessions in the red zone (can we stop calling it the Blue Zone already? Maybe that’s why where our identity crisis starts) and only managed 13 points. If you want to win games, you gotta take advantage of scoring opportunities when they’re in range.
Call me crazy but I’m not ready, yet, to join the bandwagon calling for Taysom Hill’s head. Let me tell you a little story about a BYU quarterback named Max Hall. Max may not be one of the most popular quarterbacks in the BYU QB factory but he’s one of the most accomplished. Hall started as a sophomore and was pretty bad. His accuracy was off. His reads were off. His game was just off. Where Max finally got comfortable and started building confidence was when he started small, throwing the ball to the backs and tight ends. Little dump off passes and quick passes to tight ends built his confidence. He started playing without fear. His reads became more correct and his passes more accurate. There were some pretty memorable games with Hall slinging the ball around to Dennis Pitta and Andrew George. Remember Hall throwing 7 TDs in a 59-0 drubbing of UCLA? I do. Remember BYU playing the first NCAA football game ever in Cowboy Stadium and taking down #3 Oklahoma? I do. Remember “4th & 18” and “George is Still Running?” I do. Guess what. Hall was the QB for all of them and Anae was the offensive coordinator. Hall left BYU as the all-time winningest QB in school history. But he started out as a quarterback making bad reads, poor throws, and losing games. Sound familiar?
Taysom isn’t exactly playing with a full deck. Make no mistake about the “dominating” performance against Texas, but BYU’s offensive line is not exactly good. Texas played the wrong defense the entire game and never adjusted. Their linebackers played too close inside and their defensive ends were not keeping contain, so BYU ran all over them with speed. Utah simply adjusted, as they should have, and slid their linebackers out of the box while having their defensive ends keep contain and the rushing attack was controlled. Not stopped, mind you, because we still have some damn good runners! But contained. That will continue to happen because we don’t have a very good offensive line. Coach Anae and Coach Tujague will recruit better linemen and the the situation will improve next year, but for now we are who we are.
All that needs to happen is the same thing that Anae did with Max Hall. Start throwing the ball to the backs and TEs. BYU has one TE who has registered a catch this season and that is Brett Thompson with five. Five catches in three games by tight ends? That isn’t BYU football. Running backs have fared worse, accounting for a combined five receptions for 35 yards out of Jamaal Williams, Algernon Brown, and Paul Lasike. That isn’t BYU football.
We all want to see the passing game to improve. Many think that means a different quarterback, which somehow means that Ammon Olsen is going to be Tom Brady compared to Hill when it was Hill who beat Olsen out for the starting job in the first place. Maybe Olsen would play better, who knows. But I’m not calling for Hill to go, just for Anae to put him in a situation to succeed, as he did for Max Hall when he was young, inexperienced, and making mistakes.