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Dick Harmon: BYU, Utah need run game to lift QB situation

Published: Friday, Oct. 7 2011 8:42 p.m. MDT

Brandon Doman and Norm Chow will have similar challenges today — they'll break in new quarterbacks.

It is a known fact Utah will start Jon Hays in place of the injured Jordan Wynn. And BYU will give Riley Nelson his first start since the Florida State game last season.

Hays makes his debut against a very talented Arizona State defense today.

Nelson will start against San Jose State, a team that defeated Colorado State, which upended Utah State, which should have defeated the Cougars.

Chow has been through this routine over and over again through the years. You protect your quarterback, give him easy throws and try like crazy to establish some kind of run attack to take pressure off the guy.

Doman has never been in this position, preparing a new quarterback in midseason by giving him the majority of reps in practice, adjusting the game plan for his particular talents and then throwing the dice and see how they roll.

Like Chow against the Sun Devils today, Doman needs BYU's run game to be a big part of tonight's success against the Spartans.

The Utes got just 17 rushing yards in a loss to Washington. Kyle Whittingham put it bluntly: "We couldn't get any movement on the line of scrimmage, that was the No. 1 issue. We didn't get any knock off of the front line."

The same could be said of the Cougars through four of their first five games. Against USU, BYU did break out with 200 yards in 40 attempts, a good chunk of it due to Riley's QB rushes (11 for 62). But failure to run the ball hurt BYU in losses to Texas and Utah.

I spoke to Doman this week and asked him what his biggest challenges were for BYU's offense in September. He said BYU's team is still in the "fog of war" and needs to break through it.

The first thing Doman mentioned was BYU's run game. Second was increasing third-down conversion percentage, and third was scoring more points per red zone excursion.

I asked offensive line coach Mark Weber why was it so challenging for BYU to run the football in September. Was it the opponents, defenses like the speed of Texas, size and speed of Mississippi, the top rated defenders of Central Florida and size of Utah? Or was it BYU's scheme or a performance issue by players?

Weber said the Cougar struggles were due to all of it.

"It isn't just one thing, but playing who we have played has had a lot to do with it. We've had to work hard at getting better at making a push, getting the backs to run harder and longer with purpose and intensity," said Weber.

"And blocking it better isn't all the offensive line, it is everyone, including the tight ends and everyone else on the field."

Doman said he knew BYU's offense could not be great until it could run effectively.

"In the first few games, we overshot the mark and didn't execute the fundamentals of the run attack. We've finally executed the fundamentals of the run attack. We've got to convert more third downs, the percentage is way too low. Finally, we've got to score more touchdowns. We score in the red zone but we have to get more touchdowns when we're down there."

This week's predictions:

Arizona 17, Oregon State 14: Two struggling Pac-12 teams battling to keep out of the cellar. I'll go with Arizona to make one more play than the Beavers.

Stanford 42, Colorado 10: Stanford looks to challenge for a Top 3 ranking, and nobody's slowed down Andrew Luck yet. His worst game was a rating in the 140s.

UCLA 21, Washington State 17: Both these teams have made progress in baby steps. I'll go with the Bruins because of talent in the trenches.

Oklahoma 32, Texas 28: Great football game, but Sooner firepower and pace of game will overtake the Longhorns, who should have lost to BYU.

Notre Dame 28, Air Force 21: The Fighting Irish are fresh off a win over Purdue and have apparently put their troubles behind them with momentum.

LSU 35, Florida 27: The Tigers have too much firepower for the Gators.

Utah State 24, Wyoming 21: I like the Aggies. They have talent, a great scheme and superior coaching. If USU's players can make a few more plays, they can certainly race past the Cowboys.

Arizona State 24, Utah 21: This is a game of preventing turnovers. I like ASU's QB situation over that of a rookie starter for the Utes.

BYU 27, San Jose State 17: The Cougars will roll out Nelson and see if he can produce more points than BYU has put up so far.

Last week: 7-1, overall: 32-8 (.800)

EMAIL: dharmon@desnews.com

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