Provo • BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said on his Coordinators’ Corner show Monday that the Cougars spent more time working on their foundering passing game prior to facing McNeese than before any other opponent this season.
It didn’t show.
The No. 20-ranked Cougars (3-1) threw for only 130 yards and averaged just 4.8 yards per passing attempt in a 30-3 win over the team ranked No. 10 in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Although BYU is no longer a pass-first school, it clearly needs to develop a stronger passing attack. It got away with being so-so or even subpar in the throw game in wins over Arizona, Wisconsin and McNeese, but holding No. 11 Washington to fewer than 30 points on Saturday at Husky Stadium (6:30 p.m. MDT, Ch. 13) seems like a Herculean task for a defense that has carried the Cougars through four games.
“There is plenty of blame to go around, but there’s no question we got to get better at throwing the football, and hopefully get better at completing some deep balls,” Grimes said.
The jet sweep and all the options it brings has opened the BYU offense up considerably in 2018. But the yardage production overall is roughly similar to last year’s meager numbers. The difference is the defense is better, and the offense isn’t turning the ball over as much, coach Kalani Sitake noted Monday.
“I trust our coaches and I trust our players,” Sitake said. “They’re getting it done. In our philosophy, there is nothing wrong with punting the ball. You can’t have crazy, big-time mistakes that you can’t overcome. Usually that happens with mindless throws. We have to be smart with the way we throw the ball. I have been really pleased with how our guys have distributed the ball.”
Indeed, quarterback Tanner Mangum has only been intercepted twice — both times against Cal in the 21-18 loss. The Cougars are tied for 24th in the country in fewest passes intercepted.
NO. 20 BYU AT NO. 11 WASHINGTON
When • Saturday, 6:30 p.m. MDT
TV • Ch. 13
But in other national categories, the Cougars’ offense ranks among the worst in the country. They are 117th in total offense, 113th in passing offense, 122nd in passing yards per completion and 112th in team passing efficiency. There are 129 schools in the Football Championship Subdivision.
After completing just 15 of 25 passes — a couple were dropped, including a short toss to Squally Canada at the goal line — quarterback Tanner Mangum said Saturday that improvement is coming.
“There is a lot that goes into it,” Mangum said. “It requires all 11 guys doing their part. It is something we definitely have to work on, something we can definitely improve. We are willing to put in that work. We want to be better.”
Receivers coach Fesi Sitake acknowledged last week that he’s still looking for a go-to guy to emerge from his receiving corps. Tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau has been targeted the most, 19 times, while receiver Aleva Hifo has been targeted 17 times. Surprisingly, sophomore Matt Bushman, a freshman All-American in 2017, has played sparingly and been targeted only seven times.
“The message has been sent more clearly than ever,” Fesi Sitake said. “The guys who practice the best are going to play the most.”
Senior receiver Dylan Collie wondered Monday what all the fuss is about. He reminded reporters that the Cougars are 3-1 and ranked No. 20 in the country. Receivers are heavily involved in the offense as ball-carriers or decoys on jet sweeps.
“We got a great system going and we are on the up and up and there is no need to press or look at the panic button in any way, shape or form,” Collie said.
Mangum has misfired on some passes, but Grimes said his protection from the offensive line hasn’t been perfect and receivers, tight ends and running backs have had some costly drops, including freshman Gunner Romney’s drop of a long pass on the offense’s first play from scrimmage against McNeese.
“Just some sloppy play that I don’t think is indicative of who we are as an offense,” Grimes said. “I just know that down the road, we are going to have some games where we are going to have to throw the ball more efficiently in order to get the points needed to win.”
Geographically, Washington is more up the road than down from Provo, but his point is well-taken.
WHERE BYU’S PASSING ATTACK RANKS NATIONALLY
Total offense • 117th (320.3 yards per game)
Passing offense • 113th (163.8 ypg)
Passing yards per completion • 122nd (9.49)
Team passing efficiency • 112th (111.95 passing efficiency)
Passes had intercepted • T24th (2)