PROVO — If hope springs eternal for Ty Detmer, BYU’s offense will do something it hasn’t done against an FBS team this entire season: Experience a victory by outscoring San Jose State on Saturday.
So far, his offense has shouldered much of the blame for a seven-game losing streak.
But let's be positive. Can that hurt?
On Monday, head coach Kalani Sitake sat in his weekly press conference and declared he has asked his offensive and defensive coaches to buy into the idea of being more aggressive — throw caution to the wind. He used the word “aggressive” about a hundred times. Well, at least a dozen.
Ever since the loss at Utah State in Logan, where BYU quarterbacks threw two pick-sixes and the team suffered seven turnovers, Detmer has tried conservative game plans to limit mistakes and prevent miscues. BYU still lost.
But at the end of a painful loss to woeful East Carolina last Saturday, Detmer had Tanner Mangum throw the kitchen sink against a soft cover defense. The result was the most productive passing yardage of the season.
And part of that was the play of receiver Aleva Hifo, who had nine catches for 148 yards. That is an average of 16.4 yards per catch, with a long of 46. He was making plays and Mangum was feeling the itch again.
That performance elevated Hifo past tight end Matt Bushman for the most receiving yards by a BYU player this season (278 to 267 yards). He trails Bushman in catches, 28 to 24.
There is a chance Detmer will get Talon Shumway back from injury. Shumway was at one time the second-most productive receiver on the team. Also, Micah Simon is coming on.
And there’s also the chance that QB Beau Hoge, who has returned to practice, will be available if not this week, then next.
So, in a week where it was announced starting running back Ula Tolutau was charged for possession of a controlled substance and negativity ruled, there are glimmers of positivity.
And at 1-7, you build on those things.
Hifo began the season with a slight injury. A quiet, reserved guy, he spent last year learning from a pair of seniors, the Juergens twins. But with big catches at Mississippi State and his performance against a weak ECU defense, his confidence is soaring.
At June's media day, one BYU coach told me in time Hifo could be one of the great receivers BYU has had. Was it wishful thinking or truth?
Detmer said when he recruited Hifo and looked at his high school film, the thing that stood out was his acceleration off the line, that he got to 12 yards quickly and hit full speed within a few strides. “I was excited about that part of him.”
On ESPN 960’s “Coordinator’s Corner” Monday, Detmer said he’s seen a different confidence in Hifo the past two weeks, that he’s come out of his shell and started demanding the ball, begging to be targeted, and once he’s made catches, he’s made people miss and gained yards after the catch. He comes back to the huddle and sideline telling everyone he can “make it happen.”
That, said Detmer, is something the offense has been waiting to hear: “A guy to step up and say that: 'Give me the ball.’”
It’s something to build on.
“For Tanner to find confidence in him and feel good about him on a safety, we’ve gotten some of those looks and they’ve led to more looks."
For an offense deep in search of answers, it is a straw to grab.
This season kicked off with no 80-catch receivers, no 70-catch tight ends, no 1,000-yard running backs. A year ago last summer Bushman was on an LDS Church mission in Santiago, Chile; Tolutau was doing missionary work in Bakersfield, California; and receiver Neil Pau’u was doing his church service in Salt Lake City. Mangum, meanwhile, was sitting out most of the 2016 season.
But at this stage of the season, excuses are over.
It’s October. The big bad SEC and Big Ten teams are in the rearview mirror.
It’s time to take advantage of a constructive thought.
What else has this offense got?