Dick Harmon: Cougars, Aggies need offensive excellence to win
Tom Smart, Deseret News
The Cougars and Aggies could use some explosive weaponry in their bowl bags.
Utah State and BYU have the same common challenge in the Poinsettia and Fight Hunger bowl games in San Diego and San Francisco this week.
They need offensive firepower.
We’re not talking flea-flickers, Statue of Liberties, reverses and halfback passes. We’re not talking about re-inventing offenses or schemes. It’s too late for that.
We’re talking exceptional execution, penalty-free drives, high percentage passes and offensive line pushes that result in a solid effort on the ground. They’re going to need points.
Bronco Mendenhall and Matt Wells need the same kind of mojo. It’s the toughest kind of mojo to find in December.
Bowls generally put a lot of pressure on offensive execution by design because teams have taken off two to three weeks of actual game play and danced around final examinations.
Both the Aggies and Cougars have respectable defenses. With some rest, hopefully these two defenses will perform to expectations.
They’ll need to.
The Aggie defense faces Northern Illinois’ Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch. He’s a quarterback who runs like a deer. He slices through defenders, breaks tackles, gets to the second level and has gained a whopping 1,881 rushing yards this season. He’s ranked No. 2 in the nation.
The Cougar defenders take on the No. 3 rusher in Bishop Sankey of Washington. He’s got speed, balance and power. He has a burst and is another version of what the Cougars struggled to stop at Wisconsin.
This is why Mendenhall and Wells need their offenses to really step up this week.
They need their offenses to sustain drives, convert third downs, get in scoring position and put points on the board with efficiency and frequency.
I think the Aggie defense will surprise Lynch. Northern Illinois lost in its last outing on Dec. 4 to Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference because it faced a very good defense that got a handle on Lynch. I think USU will repeat that kind of tough defense this week. The Ags rank No. 12 in total defense, No. 7 in scoring defense and are a Top 10 rush defense, allowing just 107.3 yards per game.
The onus is on USU’s offense.
The Cougars face a similar challenge, but with injuries to middle linebackers Spencer Hadley and Austen Jorgensen, coping with talented runners has been tougher late in this season. Since those two backers went down and star linebacker Kyle Van Noy has struggled to create the big plays we saw out of him in September and October, BYU’s challenge to manage Sankey is monumental.
Again, this puts a big burden on Taysom Hill, Cody Hoffman and Jamaal Williams to match touchdowns and scoring opportunities the Huskies are expected to produce.
It’s a point race for BYU and USU.
Darell Garretson needs his best impression of Chuckie Keeton.
Hill needs his best impression of the guy who looked so polished against Texas and Georgia Tech.
If this were in the regular season, the Cougars would need to score more than 35 points against Washington to have a chance to control the Pac 12 opponent with its defense. Washington averaged 38 points a game this past season. With offensive timing usually lagging, 28 points is a magic number this week — 28 would have got it done in losses to Utah, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. UW is favored by three.
The Aggie offense will need to score in the upper 30s. Lynch is capable of going the distance on any play, and USU will need to answer his point production. Northern Illinois is favored by a point and a half.
Is this doable?
But is it expected? No.
These games are intriguing because of the defensive challenges.
But the hopes and dreams of wins hinge on points produced by the locals. Get gobs of points and the defenses will take care of the rest. Don’t score, turn it over or chug to stops in the red zone and you can put a fork in this bowl week.
The bottom line is that USU’s Kevin McGiven and BYU’s Robert Anae are offensive coordinators who need optimum production come kickoff.
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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