The setting sun was flanked to Brandon Doman's right, not shining directly into his eyes. Yet as he stood on BYU's practice field and answered questions intently, Doman kept squinting, as if to make solutions to his offense's troubles somehow come into focus.
After one quarter of the football season, three games into his new job as BYU's offensive coordinator, this is what we know about Doman: He's no Gary Crowton or Andy Ludwig.
That's not a compliment.
Once vilified around here, those coaches are thriving with the balanced, productive offenses of Maryland (Crowton) and San Diego State (Ludwig). Meanwhile, Doman's offense has delivered exactly one touchdown in each game.
Well, Bronco Mendenhall wanted consistency. BYU's coach restructured his offensive staff in the offseason, willingly losing two assistants, moving another and promoting Doman. Mendenhall endorsed those moves this week, while acknowledging, "Certainly, the results haven't shown it yet."
Doman is bright, energetic and determined, and he'll eventually succeed, I'm sure. Yet part of me is glad he's struggling, for this reason: He's proving this job is not as easy as it looks.
Even if you've gone 14-2 as BYU's starting quarterback, hung around the NFL for a few years and coached the Cougar QBs for six seasons, becoming a coordinator at age 34 is a big jump. Whether it's Crowton (while also being judged as a head coach) or Robert Anae at BYU or Ludwig at Utah, fans continually demand more of an offensive coordinator or, preferably, a new one.
"I don't think I knew exactly what it was going to be like, until I did it," Doman said. "I certainly have a lot to learn, and I'm anxious to do that. â¦ And I am learning. Hopefully, I'll learn fast enough that we can turn this thing around."
The answer is not as easy as in 2005, Mendenhall's first season. All he had to do was suggest that Anae stop ignoring the running game, and the offense improved instantly. Conversely, Doman's scheme revolves around running to set up passing. But the Cougars can't run. In turn, quarterback Jake Heaps occasionally tries to do too much, and he's also missing receivers in key situations.
"As the quarterback of this team, all the blame needs to be put on my shoulders," Heaps said, in Doman's defense.
In last weekend's loss to Utah, the offense lost five fumbles and Heaps was intercepted once (BYU also fumbled a kickoff). So this week, everybody wants to know whether Doman will keep calling plays from the sideline or move to the press box.
"I don't know if me in the box is going to take away seven turnovers," Doman said.
He laughed when he said that, not speaking defensively. Offensively, though, change is needed whether that's location, personnel or scheme.
Mendenhall likes the way the offensive players are being coached. "At some point, it's going to show on game day," he said.
Friday? Not necessarily. Part of Doman's problem, obviously, is BYU's September schedule. He's faced defenses from the SEC, the Big 12 and the Pac-12, and now comes Central Florida, whose defense is in the same class.
Ludwig has eased into his first season at SDSU, playing Cal Poly, Army and Washington State. Crowton had a tougher start against Miami and West Virginia, although Miami was weakened by suspensions. In any case, Crowton is continuing his remarkable trend of success upon arrival as happened with the Chicago Bears, BYU, Oregon and LSU, before opponents apparently caught up to him.
Doman, who quarterbacked Crowton's first BYU team to a 12-2 record in 2001, already has lost twice as a coordinator. It was reasonable to expect more, after the way Heaps and other young players finished the 2010 season. That recovery now is being exposed as a function of a softened schedule.
Similar improvement could occur later this season. But if the offensive players show progress Friday against UCF, it will be genuine.
"They're searching their souls right now, as everybody is in this program," Doman said, "and they're trying to find some grit right now, which we lack."
He's trying to model that behavior. Toward the end of Tuesday's practice, when the backs ran short routes and dived to catch purposely errant throws, Doman took a turn. The ball glanced off his hands, as the players hooted, applauding the attempt.
The effort was admirable, but the results? Lacking.
Doman vs. Crowton vs. Ludwig
BYU's 2011 statistics, compared with those of Gary Crowton's Maryland offense and Andy Ludwig's San Diego State offense (with NCAA rankings):
Rushing Passing Total Scoring*
BYU 48.3 (118) 253.3 (43) 301.6 (104) 13.3 (111)
Maryland 169.5 (54) 318.5 (15) 488.0 (17) 31.5 (58)
SDSU 220.7 (24) 207.3 (78) 428.0 (42) 38.0 (27)
* Includes non-offensive points.
BYU 2011 season vs. 2010 season
BYU's three-game statistics, compared with the Cougars' first three games of 2010 (vs. Washington, Air Force and Florida State):
Rushing Passing Total TD* Turnovers
2010 147.6 155.0 302.6 5 5
2011 48.3 253.3 301.6 3 10**
* Offensive touchdowns.
** Includes kickoff-return fumble.