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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Utah Utes quarterback Jordan Wynn (3)as the University of Utah plays USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the first ever PAC-12 game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

PROVO — In two games this season, BYU has scored two offensive touchdowns. The Cougars are ranked No. 107 nationally in scoring offense, No. 108 in total offense, and No. 113 in rushing offense. They have suffered from a glaring lack of playmakers, an inability to finish drives, and general inconsistency.

No, this is not what BYU had in mind for its offense this season, especially returning 10 starters from a year ago, including quarterback Jake Heaps.

The Cougars want to find the end zone on a more regular basis Saturday (7:15 p.m., MT, ESPN2) when archrival Utah invades LaVell Edwards Stadium.

"Going three-and-out and kicking a bunch of field goals, that's frustrating. We definitely want to score touchdowns," said running back Bryan Kariya. "We just need to get our groove as an offense. I expect that we'll hit that within the next game or two. It took us a while last season to get going. But I think we're on the right track. We're making improvements and working on things that need to be sharpened up."

First-year offensive coordinator Brandon Doman has come under fire for what is being characterized as conservative play-calling in the second half in a 17-16 loss at Texas last weekend, as the Cougars squandered a 13-3 halftime lead.

In the first half, BYU seemed to be in control. Wide receiver Ross Apo caught three passes for 40 yards and a touchdown, while tight ends Austin Holt and Marcus Mathews combined to catch five passes for 77 yards. But in the second half, those three players had zero receptions and BYU gained a dismal 67 yards.

Among the theories that are being bandied about to explain the Cougars' offensive woes:

Doman is inexperienced in his new role, and is still learning the art of calling plays.

BYU has played two tough road games against physical defenses from the Southeastern Conference and Big 12, respectively.

Cougar players are simply not executing in crucial moments.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall is optimistic that the offense will get better. He's not panicking yet.

"I'm still seeing signs of progress. I think we have good players with good ability that are still optimistic and working hard," he said. "Eventually that's going to lead to the production we're all hopeful for. I'm just putting it as a work in progress still. The level of concern or anxiety or anything like that, I haven't reached that point yet."

So what needs to change? Mendenhall said the answer is that the offense needs to be more balanced, with more production on the ground.

"The biggest issue right now is we have to be able to find a way to run the football more effectively. I'm fairly happy with our play-action and I'm fairly happy with our intermediate throws. Running the football to me is actually the largest of concerns."

Added Mendenhall: "The biggest thing that would be helpful to Jake and our offense is more balance. Being able to run the football more effectively would have his development take off. He's having to carry a little too much of the load right now."

The Cougars gained only 43 yards on the ground at Texas. Kariya knows that his team needs to establish the run this week.

"We as running backs need to realize that we're not going to be given anything. We've got to go out there and earn it for ourselves. We have a great offensive line, and they do their job each week.

"It just falls on us to get our shoulder pads low, turn up field and go north and south. It's a cliché in the running game, but down field is how you get the yards and score touchdowns. That's what we're looking to improve on."

Doman and Heaps were not made available this week to the local media for interviews. However, Heaps did tell ESPN.com: "Offensively, we're not happy with the amount of points we've put up on the board. We feel we could put up more and we should put up more. The way we're driving the football, the way we're able to move the football, we're happy about that.

"Now it's a matter of one or two plays we didn't execute that cost us putting seven points on the board. We're so close to just exploding. We're so close to having this offense rise to what everybody thinks this offense should be and what our team believes this offense could be."

Cougars and Utes on the air

Utah (1-1) at BYU (1-1)

Saturday, 7:15 p.m. MT

LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo


Radio: 102.7 FM, 700 AM, 1160 AM

email: jeffc@desnews.com