College football outlook: BYU's up-tempo transformation beginning to yield results

Ralph D. Russo

The Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 29 2013 3:06 p.m. MDT

BYU vs. Boise State Highlights

BYU had an up-tempo mentality before it had an up-tempo offense.

"It's always been the will before the skill for me," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday. "Our entire program is about how hard you try.

"All we're doing is asking the offense to do is what the defense and special teams had already been doing."

And it's working great. An offense that struggled against good competition last year, is not just running more plays, but gaining more yards and scoring more points per play.

After BYU's offense tanked last season, Mendenhall decided upping the pace on offense could help the Cougars go from consistent winners — they haven't had a losing season in nine years under Mendenhall and have won double-digits five times — to a program that could finish in the top 10 and compete for a national title.

"It's to push the envelope of what is possible here and what we can accomplish," he said.

Mendenhall revamped his entire offensive staff after 2012. The key piece was bringing back former Cougars offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who had been working as offensive line coach at Arizona (2011-12).

Anae was retained at Arizona when Rich Rodriguez took over and for one season got a crash course in fast football.

"A year with Rich Rod was like a gift," Anae said.

Anae said Mendenhall's program already had the foundation in place to make a quick and successful transition to the up-tempo offense — from the emphasis on effort and conditioning to the tone set by a defense that played a furious and attacking style.

"To have the offense go at a fast pace kind of fit the team culture that was already here," he said. "To do something like that you need a team-wide commitment."

The Cougars have embraced the new approach. No team in college football has run more plays per game than BYU at a shade under 90, up from 77 per game last year. The Cougars have gone from 400 yards per game and 5.19 yards per play to 511.3 and 5.70. That second number puts the Cougars at 65th in the country, so there is still plenty of room for improvement and big plays.

First-year starting quarterback Taysom Hill, a dual-threat still developing as a passer, is sixth in the nation in total offense at 357 yards per game.

Meanwhile, that nasty defense Mendenhall has made BYU's calling card in recent years — he was a former defensive coordinator — still ranks 20th in the nation in yards per play at 4.87.

The Cougars have won five straight, including Friday's impressive 37-20 victory against Boise State, and have this week off before playing at No. 22 Wisconsin on Nov. 9.

It will be the biggest test yet for the Cougars' new offensive style, though Mendenhall is quick to point out that up-tempo has done more than just increase BYU's offensive production.

"One of things I love about coaching is to see the human will tested. To see players being fatigued and still willing to go on," he said. "I love what it does to our practices and what it does to our individual growth and maturity."

TULANE'S TURNAROUND

Don't call him Curtis or Coach Johnson. Tulane coach Curtis Johnson prefers C.J. And considering how well the Green Wave have been playing in their second season under the New Orleans native and former Saints assistant, his is a name worth knowing.

Tulane (6-2, 4-0) is bowl-eligible, in first place in Conference USA's West Division, and on the way to snapping a string of 10 straight losing seasons. The program was nearly washed away by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and had shown few signs of hope since.

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