Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — When BYU sophomore running back Jamaal Williams walked into the interview area after a practice this week, he acted like he played on an offense that had just made top 10 plays on ESPN's "SportsCenter." He was Adrian Peterson, quarterback Taysom Hill was Johnny Unitas and receiver Ross Apo was Batman.
BYU’s offense did some scoring. Again and again.
“It was,” beamed Williams. Added receiver Skyler Ridley: “We went fast and hard and the offense did what it is designed to do."
Williams explained how it unfolded.
“We had a chip on our shoulder after the way we played the other day in practice," he said. “We just wanted to come out and show what we could do if we put more emotion into it. I feel we are going to play like this the rest of the time.”
Folks will get a peek to see if that holds up Saturday inside LaVell Edwards Stadium during an open scrimmage at 10 a.m.
The look on the face of Williams was symbolic and sorely needed by BYU’s offense, the one that in 2012 couldn’t make that single big winning play at Notre Dame or Boise State; the one that had 4 million false starts at Utah and San Jose State and limped to a defensive victory in a bowl win over San Diego State.
Of course not. This Robert Anae offense has plenty of room for improvement. Execution is creeping forward, a second priority to conditioning and effort in the first week, but it’s moving forward. Anae is trying to pump energy into an offense that has lacked chunk yardage since Austin Collie left for the NFL five years ago. The past three seasons, only seven major college football teams had fewer touchdown passes than BYU.
File that in an anemic big play folder.
This was a day of 40-yard bombs, big catches and nice runs. It was a day the offense put the defense on its heels. It was a practice Williams and Hill and his targets threw punches and liked feeling sore knuckles.
The biggest watermark of Week 1 with BYU’s football team in fall camp was this mid-week, late-afternoon pistol-whipping. The defense rebounded the next day.
The offensive showcase featured big plays, completed drives, and a perfect delivery of scores in four red zone drills. That act alone took Bronco Mendenhall’s football team a couple of rungs up the ladder because his offense simply needed confidence. It is a unit that's been hungry for celebration scrums and a little swagger for a long, long time. In a Tuesday practice, every kicker on the team was perfect in field goals and point-after tries. Say, what?
Will BYU’s offense build on that Saturday when Mendenhall opens up his first major scrimmage to the public in LaVell Edwards Stadium?
Thing about fall football camps is that offenses and defenses have an ebb and flow. One day one side rises up and slaps around the other side. Another day the victims decide to so something about it. Granted, much of the battle depends on which starters are held out or are injured.
Regardless, the fact is that Anae’s offense used three practices to establish culture and an effort standard, then polished up execution and things clicked. That is progress.
Williams said the offense got sick of seeing the defense hoot and holler after making plays. His guys wanted some of that action, some payback, so they could do it too.
“We played with more emotion and determination. Every day we’ve improved, but today we took a big step. When we react to big plays, we don’t feel tired because we are having so much fun," said Williams. "I think we earned the respect of the defense.”
Big plays? Receiver coach Guy Holliday compared the results to touching poison ivy. You get one bump, then, other bumps follow.
Anae needs a field of ivy.
This “confidence factor” or this so-called micro-elevation by the offense was visually measurable, like a switch flipped. You could see it faces and demeanor of key players like Hill and Williams.
“We are picking up on each other’s tendencies and gaining confidence in one another,” said Williams. “We are finding out how far we can push each other, trust each other.”
This is what makes Saturday’s practice so interesting, to see this kind of stuff develop in an offense. Hill is taking charge and those around him are reacting. No question, this will be met with equal intensity by the defense.
Williams can’t wait for hitting and deployment of full pads Saturday.
“The defense can do a lot when there’s just helmets on and little pads on, just a little touch is a tackle," he said, not trying to talk smack but kind of doing so.
“When pads come fully on, then it’s really on and we’ll see who is better in practice. Thing is, it is one more chance to get better,” said Williams.
Anae will find out more about this rebuilt offensive line and how far it has come and more of what is needed Saturday. The offense will face a motivated defense and I’d expect a lot of key players to be held out. Maybe Williams will only see a few reps as coaches continue to make depth chart evaluations.
But the O-line? The biggest question mark of the offense?
It remains the biggest factor at BYU's fall camp.
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