Dick Harmon: BYU, Utah defenses could use an offensive hand this weekend
JOE RAYMOND, AP
It should never happen in football because the sport is a team deal, right? One for all, all for one, no “I” in T-E-A-M. That kind of stuff.
But deep down, in the darkest recesses of the repressed compartments of their very bright minds, defensive coordinators at Utah and BYU have to feel a little frustration over what's transpired the past few years.
While their defenses have been tackling, sacking, stopping, intercepting and making enough plays to win, their counterparts on offense have been stymied, play-call impaired, and point-producing vacuums at critical times. Ute and BYU offenses have lacked knockout capability when key situations called for absolute nuclear strike-force points against quality foes.
Bear in mind, Ute defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and BYU defensive coordinator Nick Howell and head coach Bronco Mendenhall absolutely are not the kind of men who would publicly rant and let any of their frustration come out of their personal lockboxes. They won’t do that now or in the future because they aren’t those kind of guys. They don't do things that are unprofessional.
But they can shake their heads and sigh.
One might understand how they feel if given access into that part they protect and hide. It’s only natural. We see it all the time in marriages where one spouse believes they do most of the work.
Heading into regular-season-ending games against Colorado and Nevada, I’d bet these defensive-minded gridiron pilots would be eternally grateful, enormously thankful, systemically relieved and epically appreciative if Dennis Erickson/Brian Johnson and Robert Anae could produce huge amounts of points.
Last week in Pullman, Wash., Sitake had to have been a cardiac arrest candidate after watching a pair of Ute pick-sixes to start the game against Mike Leach's Washington State team. It forced him to tell his guys to march out of a bottomless pit, put on a game face and fight like the 300 Spartans in the Battle of Thermopylae.
Because of QB and O-line issues, the Ute offense has been a turnover machine — a bobbling, interception arcade game.
Last week in South Bend, Ind., Howell and Mendenhall had to wonder how big a genie in a bottle it would take for Anae’s offense to produce points in the red zone. Just like it did against Utah and Wisconsin, the Cougar offense moved the ball fast and hard until it got in scoring position. There, the offense transitioned into a bad high school scheme, a team devoid of killer plays or execution. At times, the Cougar offense has been a penalty-prone group of playground victims who act like the goal was to cross the 20.
Both BYU and Utah’s issues mirror each other the past two seasons: They’ve had problems on the offensive line and those have led to QB challenges with protection, timing and injuries.
Against Washington State — just like games with ASU, Arizona and Oregon — Utah turnovers killed the Utes. Just buried them in a cement box.
Against Wisconsin and Notre Dame, when the Cougars couldn’t even execute a late-game chip-shot field goal, it is as if BYU’s offense simply runs out of gas at the end of drives.
In South Bend, the Fighting Irish surprised BYU by keeping the same defensive play calls that Notre Dame transfer Chris Badger, now a Cougar, knew by heart. All the blitz packages, coverages and play calls were there to know before the snap. Anae refused on two fronts. First, he decided waiting and interpreting and informing his players would take away the go-fast game plan. Second, Anae thought it would be unethical and unsportsmanlike to use this knowledge from Badger.
Question is, would an opponent have used it against the Cougars?
Well, it is moot and probably wouldn’t have made a difference because Notre Dame owned the line of scrimmage.
But in the big picture of both the Cougars and Utes, if their respective offenses would have been better this season ... what could have been?
BYU hired a new offensive staff and Utah hired Erickson to address this very issue a year ago.
This isn’t to excuse a myriad mistakes by both Utah and BYU defenses. At times, they've given up big chunks of yardage, yielded kickoff returns and made untimely penalties. But if you weigh these things in the balance, BYU and Utah offenses would take the scale tray to the table in the blame game.
Perhaps on Saturday, come the end of the day, Sitake and Howell and Mendenhall will get a little reprieve witnessing their offensive counterparts put up some nice numbers on the scoreboard.
After all, they are not facing the Cougars of Mike Leach, ASU, Arizona, Oregon, Notre Dame or Wisconsin.
One would think on this post-holiday game day, scoring lots of points is doable.
Losses would be a Black Saturday, indeed.
This week’s predictions:
ASU 37, Arizona 34: The 18th-ranked Sun Devils hold home turf.
USC 24, UCLA 21: Give Trojans credit in post-Lane Kiffin era.
Alabama 34, Auburn 31: Crimson Tide players are monsters and have the better QB.
Utah State 28, Wyoming 21: Aggies are 4-2 at home and Pokes 1-4 traveling.
BYU 34, Nevada 17: Cougars limping to the finish line.
Last week: 5-3; Overall 81-27 (.750)
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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