College football’s most famous practitioner of the traditional BYU passing offense hardly distinguished himself in his return to the sideline Thursday night.
Yet while Washington State’s offense struggled in coach Mike Leach’s celebrated debut, another BYU graduate was orchestrating his own offense quite nicely.
Launching his second season on the job, BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman looked like he knew what he was doing in a 30-6 victory at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
That’s a major upgrade over anything I would have said about Doman — or he would have said about himself — last year.
One afternoon in April, Doman stood on the practice field and delivered a rather scathing self-evaluation.
"I was way too complex, tried too many things and never created an identity for this offense," he said.
Thursday, Doman’s offense looked crisp and efficient. With its relatively slim, trim linemen, BYU reeled off one play after another at an even faster pace than Leach’s no-huddle scheme.
"I like the tempo that we played with," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. The aggressive approach "put on opponent on their heels and they had a hard time recovering."
The best moment of Doman’s night came early in the second quarter, with BYU facing a fourth-and-1 situation at the WSU 18-yard line. On his first collegiate play, freshman quarterback Taysom Hill took a shotgun snap, faked a handoff, then pulled up and tossed a touchdown pass to tight end Kaneakua Friel.
That’s the kind of call that distinguishes an offensive coordinator. Of course, that’s easy to say when it works, but Doman clearly is more confident in himself and comfortable in his role.
Think about this: After four games in 2011, BYU ranked 111th nationally in total offense. The defenses of Ole Miss, Texas, Utah and Central Florida had something to do with that, and BYU climbed steadily to 41st by the end of the season after the level of competition dropped.
BYU posted 426 total yards Thursday and will be well positioned statistically after the opening weekend of 2012. Beyond the numbers, there just is a sense that Doman has grown into his job. He mixed option plays and quarterback draws that suited Riley Nelson, who patiently went through his progressions on passing plays and delivered the ball effectively. In the first half, BYU passed for 196 yards and rushed for 98 yards.
"It was fun to watch this team play tonight," Mendenhall said.
The only negative occurrence was a quadriceps bruise to star receiver Cody Hoffman, but the formerly unknown Skyler Ridley responded by catching six passes, including a 7-yard touchdown. In the second half, BYU’s biggest failing was having to settle for field-goal attempts.
Nelson’s insistence on taking on tacklers also has to be disconcerting to BYU followers, and so does his knack for throwing passes that seemingly should be intercepted. But his floating pass that barely sailed over a defender’s hands resulted in a 25-yard touchdown to Friel, and he got out of the opener in good shape — both in terms of health and an absence of turnovers.
So August went well for Nelson, although September and October will offer greater difficulty. WSU ranked 82nd in total defense in 2011. Nelson never has beaten a top-40 defense or posted a signature victory.
To validate his career, he needs to deliver at least one road win over any of these teams: Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame or Georgia Tech.
Washington State likely will prove to be one of the Pac-12’s worst defenses once again. But as of Thursday night, Nelson and Doman get credit for making the visiting Cougars look so bad.
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