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Dick Harmon: Will Aggies allow BYU to figure out its offense?

Published: Thursday, Sept. 29 2011 7:49 p.m. MDT

PROVO —

There are plenty of theories as to why BYU's offense isn't lighting up the scoreboard, as witnessed the first week of two-a-days in August.

Some say it's all on quarterback Jake Heaps.

Some say the media is to blame. That always works.

Others blame an underachieving offensive line for failing to move opponents and establish a run game.

Some critics say Heaps is all hype, that he's underperforming or just doesn't have it. Some of the same naysayers criticize rookie offensive coordinator Brandon Doman, saying he is in over his head and that wearing two hats as OC and QB coach is drowning him.

There are some who postulate that BYU's offense simply hasn't had a breather in which it could find a rhythm and gain confidence, that the front-loaded independent schedule has retarded progress and confidence.

Then there are those who say the Cougars simply are not that good on offense and everything else is an excuse.

I've debated with some who say BYU's offense has refused to go vertical, to put a defense on its heels and risk interceptions. This has forced a conservative approach to play calling and taken away deep receptions, scores and pass interference calls; hence, opposing defenses are content to defend BYU's run and short passes of which there is a steady diet of impotent work thus far.

Examiners of the mental aspect of the game say the Cougar offense simply lacks confidence. In a stretch of games in which the outcome is 50-50 going in, the Cougars simply haven't found a hook to hang an identity hat upon; it has no swagger moments, thus, issues remain.

It's an interesting dilemma to examine, and many wonder if answers will surface Friday when the Cougars host Utah State.

A year ago, the Aggies took advantage of a wobbly BYU team that had opened at Washington with two quarterbacks then lost on the road at Air Force, Florida State and in Provo to Nevada. The Aggies outclassed the Cougars in Logan the following week.

This time around, BYU has a much better defense. But its offense?

And what about USU superstar Robert Turbin? BYU didn't face him a year ago in losing in Logan.

Turbin will be a big factor.

"He's a great runner," said BYU linebacker Jordan Pendleton. "I played against him in '09 when I was a sophomore. I respect … him. He runs hard, he's physical, he's patient, he finds his holes and then when he hits his holes, he runs hard. Nothing but respect for No. 6."

Ironically, the entire debate over BYU's offense centers on 10 of 11 returning players who set all kinds of school records in a 52-24 blowout of UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl last December.

Those same 10 players had no problems with overthrown passes, dropped balls, missed routes, confidence, consistency or scoring. Heaps was 25 of 34 for 264 yards and four TD passes. He had a school record for completion percentage in a bowl game at 73 percent.

From then to now, what has changed?

Well, the offensive coordinator, a tweaked playbook and obviously the caliber of competition. UTEP is not Ole Miss, Texas, Utah or Central Florida.

Go ahead and choose what or whom to blame. There are plenty of choices or excuses.

This week's picks:

Air Force 33, Navy 31: The nation's No. 1 rushing attack against the No. 4 rushing offense. I'll go with the Falcons, although they have hardly been tested and lost big to TCU. Navy lost 24-21 to No. 19 South Carolina.

USC 27, Arizona 14: The Trojans have been anything but spectacular, but Arizona is chalking up a lot of hits on the ugly stick. I'll go with USC.

Notre Dame 31, Purdue 20: The Fighting Irish barely edged Pitt for a second-straight win, but I'll ride the Golden Domers to prevail in this Indiana rivalry.

Stanford 42, UCLA 14: The Andrew Luck machine is averaging 46 points a game (Duke, San Jose State, Arizona) and the defense that backs him is allowing just nine points per outing. Enough said for Slick Rick.

Washington State 17, Colorado 14: The Buffs have played the tougher schedule, and if they can get in a shootout and move the ball they might have a chance, but the Cougars have a top-5 pass attack.

Arizona State 38, Oregon State 14: I like ASU's style, the big tall QB, his arm and the way Dennis Erickson is molding this Sun Devil squad.

Utah 24, Washington 10: The remaining Ute schedule is easier than if they'd stayed in the MWC. Utes and Norm Chow should humble Steve Sarkisian, even if the Huskies have the better offense Saturday.

BYU 24, USU 17: The Aggie strength is BYU's strength, running versus defending the run. I think BYU's run game will get a jump-start in this game and that will enable Jake Heaps to complete those third-and-six situations he's been missing. But you gotta respect Gary Andersen. Except for special teams issues, his squad should have easily defeated Auburn and CSU.

Last week 6-2, overall 25-7 (.781)

dharmon@desnews.com twitter: Harmonwrites

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