PROVO — It figures to be an uneasy time for at least some of BYU's offensive coaches.
Last Monday, head coach Bronco Mendenhall told them he is looking at restructuring the offensive staff as part of his year-end evaluation.
Any announcements regarding possible changes in assignments and personnel on the staff could take weeks.
Mendenhall's assistants on the offensive side of the ball — offensive coordinator Robert Anae, assistant head coach/running backs coach Lance Reynolds, quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman, offensive line coach Mark Weber, and receivers coach Patrick Higgins are unavailable for comment and out of the office for the holidays.
In the days leading up to BYU's 52-24 rout of UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl, the Deseret News caught up with Higgins. Among the topics discussed included his wide receivers. Early in the season, the wideouts dropped passes and didn't produce much for the struggling offense.
Higgins defended the performance of the receiving corps overall.
"I know they caught a lot of grief, but they've been more productive this year than they were last year," he said. "They've got 10 more catches as a group and one more touchdown as a group. A lot of people don't realize that. They want to see what they want to see. I'm proud of those guys because as a group, they've become more productive with a team that didn't throw the ball as much as we did last year. That's nice to see, that those kids have played above the level they did last year and scored more touchdowns than they did last year."
Both Luke Ashworth and McKay Jacobson caught more passes than they did a year ago, albeit for fewer yards. In 2010, Ashworth finished with 32 receptions for 368 yards (compared to 28 catches for 387 yards last season) while Jacobson had 37 catches for 410 yards (23 catches for 556 yards in '09). Ashworth recorded seven touchdown receptions, three more than last season. Jacobson, meanwhile, tallied just one TD catch — three fewer than he had in 2009. That touchdown came in the loss to Utah.
The 2010 receiving corps received a big boost from redshirt freshman Cody Hoffman, who led all BYU wide receivers with 42 catches for 527 yards and seven touchdowns.
Two of the Cougars' top three pass-catchers, and touchdown-producers, a year ago were tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George, who went on to the NFL.
Higgins added that both Ashworth and Jacobson dealt with a rash of injuries all season. He said Ashworth's four-touchdown performance at Colorado State "was probably the first game where he was totally healthy all year," explaining that Ashworth was hampered by ankle, rib and shoulder ailments.
LAST HURRAH: BYU played its final game as a member of the Mountain West Conference in the New Mexico Bowl.
Asked on the eve of the game about the significance of it being the Cougars' last chance to represent the MWC before going independent next fall, director of athletics Tom Holmoe said, "It's a time to pause and think about the good things about the Mountain West Conference. When you have a breakup like that, it's hard to think of anything good. But the Mountain West Conference was good for BYU in a lot of respects. We had great success in our sports. Our athletes and coaches will have great memories. Beyond that, we made a decision. This is the final game for football. I think it's a phase that we pass through. We want to look ahead. It would still be nice for the Mountain West to finish strong in the bowls."
Going into the bowl game, Mendenhall said he didn't think much about the conference affiliation.
"There have been other times, especially in (the Las Vegas Bowl) where I felt like because of the perception of the Pac-10, and I believe that it is a perception, that the Mountain West wasn't as good, so then conference affiliation maybe mattered more to me in a game like that. Not that Conference USA isn't a strong conference, but there's a reputation of the Pac-10 that we simply didn't buy into."
HEAPS, HANSEN HONORED: BYU quarterback Jake Heaps and offensive guard Braden Hansen have received honorable mention recognition as part of the College Football News Freshman All-America and All-Sophomore teams.
Heaps received CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America Team honorable mention while Hansen received 2010 CFN All-Sophomore Team honorable mention.
Heaps earned New Mexico Bowl Offensive MVP honors on Saturday for his 264-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Cougars' win over UTEP. Heaps finished his first season with 2,316 yards passing and 15 touchdown throws. He set BYU freshman records for passing touchdowns, passing yards, pass completions, pass attempts, games started and wins in 2010.
A two-year starter at left guard, Hansen led all BYU offensive lineman in knockdown blocks in 2010 after earning Freshman All-America honors in 2009. Hansen helped the Cougars achieve seven 200-yard rushing games in 2010, the most for BYU since 2001.