Dick Harmon: Cougar passing game can take a bow

Published: Saturday, Nov. 13 2010 9:00 p.m. MST

BYU defenders Corby Eason, left, and Brandon Ogletree, right, sack Colorado State quarterback Pete Thomas during NCAA college football action in Fort Collins, Colo., Saturday. (Associated Press) BYU defenders Corby Eason, left, and Brandon Ogletree, right, sack Colorado State quarterback Pete Thomas during NCAA college football action in Fort Collins, Colo., Saturday. (Associated Press)

It was a grand exit, stage right, drama over.

Applause and bows.

The Rams and Cougars have been beating their heads together in football for 88 years and nobody in authority on either side can say for certain if they'll ever do it again.

But on this final MWC meeting in Hughes Stadium, the struggling Cougar passing game took flight and for the second game in a row, pounded an opponent silly. This time it was BYU 49-10 over the Rams with backup quarterback James Lark taking a mercy knee at CSU's 5-yard line as seconds ticked away to end the blowout.

Jake Heaps to Luke Ashworth looked like Max Hall to Austin Collie. For the young freshman Heaps, it was a day like Marc Wilson, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer and others had enjoyed through the decades that is this rivalry.

If you want to get picky, it was the best efficiency passing by a freshman in BYU's storied quarterback history.

Heaps was so effective and BYU's defense so dominating, it left Ram players, coaches, fans and many of the media that cover CSU, stunned.

"I did not see this coming," said Ram head man Steve Fairchild. "We had a great week of practice."

I was here in 1977 when Wilson tossed a WAC and NCAA record seven touchdown passes against the Rams. In the same realm Saturday was Ashworth's four catches for four touchdowns — a BYU school record for a receiver in a half and a tie with Kirk Pendleton in 1983 for TD catches in a game.

Heaps' pass rating was the highest ever for a freshman at BYU and the eighth best all-time for a Cougar.

The last two Saturdays, BYU's offense has scored 104 points. Heaps finished with a 242 pass-efficiency rating. At one point in the first half it was 372; at halftime it was 331. The Cougars outgained the Rams 526 to 375 total yards and led 35-0 at the half. On the heels of the offense exploding, BYU's defense came up with four turnovers, one a fumble recovery and run by freshman Kyle Van Noy for a 45-yard score.

Bronco Mendenhall said he didn't see this kind of domination coming against the Rams, although he admitted witnessing a lot of progress since the bye week. He asked offensive coordinator Robert Anae in the locker room if he envisioned the 12 of 13 third-down conversions coming. "He told me he did not," said Mendenhall.

"I did," said Heaps. "We've been working so hard and making progress, we could see things coming together as an offense and we've been gaining confidence every week."

Indeed, it is not a fluke, said his coach, Brandon Doman.

According to Doman, BYU's coaching staff tore down and examined every aspect of its passing game after it chugged out of the chute among the worst in college football through two months of the season.

"I told him (Heaps) if he didn't play like he did last week to jog to the other sideline," said Doman with a laugh. "No, he's just gaining confidence. Quite frankly, when you start tossing the ball up to receivers like Luke Ashworth, things happen and if you have talent like Jake has, it's a combination."

Doman said BYU spent three weeks "revising" the pass game, looking at everything they were doing. "If you look at the last two football games, we made a conscious effort to be aggressive. And our guys made some good plays and that's given us, as a coaching staff, more confidence to take calculated shots and take chances, and our guys have come out big."

Doman said the confidence the wins over UNLV and CSU have given offensive players — especially the receivers and Heaps — is "huge."

"We didn't know how real it was last week, if this team was really gaining momentum or was it just one of those Saturdays for UNLV. But I believe our team is gaining momentum."

The Cougars play a final home game against New Mexico on Saturday which will determine if they play in a bowl game. BYU has won four of its last five games after losing four in a row back in September.

Momentum, it's a very strange thing.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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