PROVO — It’s hard to sugarcoat the fact that BYU’s offense has been shockingly inept against quality opponents through six games this season. After a somewhat promising start against Washington State, the offense later slogged its way against Utah, Boise State and Utah State.
Sure, the offense was able to do some good things late against the Utes, but its execution during critical moments of the contest was very poor. The offense was able to romp over Weber State and then over Hawaii, but, with all due respect, who doesn’t romp over those defenses?
So what is wrong with the Cougar offense and can it be fixed?
With rumors swirling around about Taysom Hill possibly being done for the season with a knee injury and consecutive matchups with Oregon State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech on the horizon, things don’t appear all that rosy.
Just about every fan and pundit has an opinion about what is wrong with BYU’s offense and this pundit certainly has his. Here are five things I’ve observed that have contributed to the offensive struggles this season:
1. No clear identity
Remember when coach Robert Anae was the worst offensive coordinator in the history of college football? OK, most fans didn’t take their opinions to that degree, but it was largely celebrated by just about everyone when Anae was dismissed to make room for Brandon Doman.
We all remember the handwringing about the offense Anae ran at BYU. "Boring," "predictable," "uncreative" and "punchless" were the words often used to describe Anae’s offense against fast and athletic defenses.
Sure, Anae’s offenses had all of those issues, but one issue it didn’t have was a clear identity. Opponents knew what BYU ran and how it would attack a defense. Fans knew it and, most importantly, the players on offense knew it.
So what is the identity of the Brandon Doman offense?
“It’s going to be dependant on what the personnel is, on who is playing quarterback and what does our run game look like, what do our running backs do well?" said Doman after being hired as offensive coordinator in January 2011. "To sit here and say definitively on what the offense is going to look like, I’ve learned enough about football as a player and as a coach that you create the offense around the talent that you have.
"That will be sorted out over time within the next few months and deciding on what the players can do great and on what they can’t do very well and then put together an offense that suits who we are and what we can do, hopefully better than anyone in the country.”
Doman went on to state that he wanted to keep the tradition of passing at BYU while exploring ways to consistently deceive an opposing defense — something Anae largely didn't do all that well.
“I want to throw the football. I’ve grown up in these backwoods of BYU football and I’ve seen it at its very finest," said Doman. "I don’t think you can throw the football very effectively if you don’t run the ball well. The defense has to be guessing all the time and a good offense is an offense that puts the defense at bay all the time. I want defenses that go against our offenses to be guessing all the time and to be guessing wrong. We’ll put together an offense that can hopefully do that.”
The big problem for much of Doman's tenure as OC has been BYU's inability to run the football. The inability to mount an effective ground game has kept defenses confident and clued-in on what BYU is bringing offensively on most occasions — much like Anae's offenses, ironically.
The difference was that an Anae offense had an identity — a set of plays that he knew his offenses could execute on most occasions regardless of the opponent. Through almost a year and a half it's become somewhat apparent that a Doman offense lacks this to a large degree.
2. Reeling from spring
What's the point of spring practice? It's largely an exercise for coaches to identify talent and to build a foundation into fall practices and into the season. Every team has spring practices and, if used effectively, it can work as a catalyst for overall team production in the fall.
The 2012 BYU offense largely missed an entire spring of effective practices due to massive injuries along its offensive front. Almost none of the offensive linemen seen playing this season were able to go during spring, so it figures that most of the offensive troubles this season are due to subpar offensive line play.
About one week into spring it became abundantly clear that the offense couldn't execute much of anything due to a senior-laden defensive front proving unblockable for a patch-work and inexperienced offensive front. Coaches scrapped team drills as a result, and most of spring was spent running non-contact 7-on-7 drills and position drills.
This put BYU's offense as a whole behind where it should have been when fall practices got under way.
3. Offensive line woes
The best offensive lines feature a group of players that are familiar with each other and know how to work effectively as a unit — instead of as five individuals. Due to missed practice time and injuries that continued into fall camp, the Cougar offensive front kicked off the season without much cohesion and its overall production has suffered as a result.
While the tackle play provided by Braden Brown and Ryker Mathews has been largely adequate, the interior offensive line has struggled. It shouldn't be a surprise that both Brown and Mathews saw exclusive work with the first-team at the two tackle positions during fall camp while the three interior positions saw constant mixing and matching throughout.
Compounding the struggles of the interior line were season-ending injuries to Houston Reynolds and Famika Anae. To his credit, offensive line coach Mark Weber made some key changes prior to the Hawaii game — most notably switching senior Braden Hansen to center. The unit's overall production has seen an increase in production as a result.
Hawaii didn't provide much of a test for the offensive line and run-blocking was spotty against Utah State last week. The offense will need to see continued increased production along its offensive front if it hopes to see any type of success against teams like Notre Dame.
It's always difficult for any offense to lose its starting quarterback and running back due to injury, and BYU lost both of its guys during the first half of the season. While everyone is still awaiting official word on Hill's status, it's a strong possibility that BYU could be down to its third option at quarterback for the near future.
Riley Nelson could potentially get the nod against Oregon State this week, but with lingering back issues it's far from a sure thing if he can prove effective or durable. Without a secure starter at quarterback, BYU's offense may be incurring its biggest struggles so far this season. And without a clear identity on offense, it makes plugging in a backup at quarterback more difficult.
True freshman Jamaal Williams has been one of the few bright spots for the BYU offense so far this season, but will he be able to shoulder all the running responsibilities by himself? It's a lot to ask of any true freshman, but Williams has given indication that he can shoulder that responsibility in the wake of Michael Alisa's injury to his forearm.
5. Kicking game
Justin Sorensen was a huge question mark entering the season due to his own back issues and has yet to regain the exceptional form he showed out of Bingham High. Riley Stephenson hasn't been much better, missing key attempts on both field goals and, most recently, on extra points.
With an offense that struggles to reach the end zone, this is a huge problem. The kicking woes led to an ill-advised fake field-goal attempt last week and could provide more headaches the rest of the season.