Provo • Chunk yards. Explosive plays. Home run balls. Chain-movers.
Call them what you want, BYU’s offense — supposedly new and improved under first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes — isn’t getting them.
The Cougars managed to go 3-2 in September with one of the least-explosive offenses in college football, but with three high-scoring opponents on the horizon, beginning Friday night against Utah State, that has to change if BYU wants to return to a bowl game.
“We are right there,” quarterback Tanner Mangum said Monday. “We have shown flashes. At times we have shown what we are capable of. Now it is just a matter of putting it all together for four quarters.”
In fairness, BYU has played the most difficult schedule in the country to date, according to the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), and the fifth-hardest according to Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings in USA Today. The Cougars are one of only six teams who have already played four Power 5 opponents.
Still, scoring their average, 21.4 points per game, isn’t going to get the job done against the Aggies (51.5) this week, Hawaii (42.0) next week or Boise State (43.3) on Nov. 3. After the Hawaii game on Oct. 13, the Cougars have a bye and then host Northern Illinois, which has an offense even more punchless than BYU’s.
The Cougars rank 124th in total offense at 295 yards per game. They have yet to gain more than 400 yards or score more than 30 points in a game this year.
UTAH STATE AT BYU
When • Friday, 7 p.m.
TV • ESPN2
Grimes said on his Coordinators’ Corner program last week that the Cougars work on big plays and deep throws every day in practice and have “just missed” a couple of home runs in virtually every game.
“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,” he said.
Lack of speed in the skill positions has to be considered a culprit. Offensive playmakers are few and far between on the 2018 roster.
The Cougars have managed just five plays of 30 yards or more through five games, and two came on runs of 46 and 44 yards by Squally Canada against Wisconsin when the senior running back failed to outrun defensive backs to the end zone. The others were tight end Matt Bushman’s 39-yard catch and run against Washington, Moroni Laulu-Pututau’s 31-yard touchdown reception on the gadget play throw from Aleva Hifo against Wisconsin and Hifo’s 30-yard reception in the opener at Arizona.
The Cougars have especially lacked big plays at home.
The longest play against McNeese was running back Matt Hadley’s 20-yard run in garbage time, and the longest play against Cal was Laulu-Pututau’s 24-yard reception late in the fourth quarter.
“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,” Grimes said before the Washington game.
The Cougars have put together 17 scoring drives through five games to record 12 touchdowns and five field goals. They have scored one defensive touchdown — safety Dayan Ghanwoloku’s scoop and score against Cal.
The talent ‘is there,” Mangum said. “We have the pieces. We just have to make sure that we are dialed in and focused and everyone is doing his job. And if we are all doing our job, that will take care of itself.”
Former offensive coordinator Ty Detmer used to say that chunk plays are important because it is difficult for college football teams to march the length of the field without making a mistake and getting behind the chains. That happened a lot against Washington.
Only three of BYU’s scoring drives have had more than 10 plays, and two of those ended in field goals.
Grimes said he makes “several” calls for big plays per game and plans for even more than that during the week. But some don’t get thrown.
“It is a collective effort. We are not protecting cleanly enough. The quarterback at times needs to work his way through his progression sooner and get the ball to the right read quicker,” Grimes said. “At times we are not running the route quite as sharp as we could be. And then not always catching it like we should as well either. Everyone plays a role in throwing and catching the football. We just need to get better there. We need to become more efficient.”
BYU’S 5 BIGGEST PLAYS IN 2018
46 yards • Squally Canada’s 46-yard run against Wisconsin
44 yards • Squally Canada’s 44-yard run against Wisconsin
39 yards • Matt Bushman’s 39-yard reception against Washington
31 yards • Moroni Laulu-Pututau’s 31-yard reception against Wisconsin
30 yards • Aleva Hifo’s 30-yard reception against Arizona