PROVO — Will BYU’s offense find its roots this season?
Well, it needs to. It’s been the foundation of Cougar success since the late ’60s. Score a gob of points, put pressure on defenders, earn rights to some swagger and gather some wins.
Defense is a necessary companion. But without a big offensive threat in Provo, this is a program that may dominate the gimmes and win many of the 50-50 games, but it will struggle against the 40-60 percent challenges when facing big, fast, deep teams.
In those games, pull-it-out-of-your-hat scores are critical.
Look no further than Central Florida under current Nebraska coach Scott Frost last season. The Knights dominated their realm, then knocked off an SEC team. Two years after going 0-12, Frost had the Knights finish 13-0 with a Peach Bowl win over Auburn. It was done by deploying a system that challenged defenses. It can be smoke and mirrors but it has to evolve big time — and fast.
Like UCF, Kalani Sitake needs to create an offense that becomes his great equalizer.
That is BYU football. Clip an Oklahoma, shock a Texas, upset a Miami, rattle an Oregon and Cal, chase UCLA out of LaVell Edwards Stadium and win your share of rivalry games. All of it came with an offense that tipped the scales.
The post-Ty Detmer BYU offense has to be better if not surpass Robert Anae’s 2.0. Sitake has to demand efficiency, consistency, productivity. It has to carry the team, sell tickets and engage ESPN with entertainment. But most of all, it has to score points and become the rabbit. This program has already experienced many seasons being the NCAA’s offensive goat. But as it sits today, the drought has lasted way too long.
The last time BYU had a 4,000-yard passer was in 1996 with Steve Sarkisian, a 14-win season. The last time fans saw a 3,000-yard passer was Tanner Mangum in 2015, which included wins over Nebraska and Boise State.
Sitake’s Jeff Grimes-led offense needs yards. A month ago, Grimes said his new staff has tremendous chemistry and are unbelievable, and that the players have been great. He said when he’s asked things be done, they get done.
The offense must be productive, multi-dimensional, versatile, fast-paced, deceptive and executed at a high level. It cannot be rolled out in August, it has to be molded by player-run practices during the offseason.
Within days, we’ll learn if that rollout successfully happened during the dog days of summer.
BYU has at least four QBs they’ll look at to lead the offense, led by three former starters — Tanner Mangum, Joe Critchlow and Beau Hoge — and freshman Zach Wilson.
Frost chose one guy at UCF, a three-star, 5-foot-11, 185-pound recruit from Kapolei, Hawaii, Milton McKenzie. By gaming the system, elevating his talents and utilizing weapons at his disposal, McKenzie set 2017 school records for points in a game, passing touchdowns, passing yards, TDs by a QB and many other marks. He was a 4,000-yard passer and 600-yard rusher.
Sitake has three former offensive coordinators on his staff in Fesi Sitake, Steve Clark and Aaron Roderick. That’s a first at BYU. Grimes, the offensive coordinator, by all accounts is the right taskmaster. It was Fesi Sitake who had Weber State gain almost 600 yards against Cal. I watched his team beat SUU in the FCS playoffs last year and his play calling was impressive.
This season BYU’s schedule is far tougher than UCF had in the AAC, so it won’t be easy to launch and redesign. But when it came to 50-50 and 40-60 games, UCF simply won them all last year. Didn’t matter.
The threat of doing that must be created by Sitake, with Grimes' help. This is a critical time for BYU to keep its base engaged and attract and keep a new generation of fans. It can’t be done with an offense that is not explosive.
The intriguing thing about this season is to see just how effective Sitake’s changes will or won't be. It is a script that will be fun to follow beginning Thursday.
This offense has several tools it did not have a year ago. How they will be utilized in the coming weeks will be critical. One is the addition of a senior leader receiver in Dylan Collie, a senior transfer from Hawaii.
Others include freshmen faces that need time to develop but could be critical, especially with the new redshirt rule that allows players to keep a redshirt after playing four games.47 comments on this story
These rookies include Arizona freshman receiver Gunner Romney, a physically talented, big-size receiver and Lehi’s record-setting tight end Dallin Holker. Another to watch is quarterback Jaren Hall.
Regardless, BYU’s camp opens with plenty of question marks and tons to prove after enduring a seven-game losing streak a year ago.
Defensively, BYU has its own set of challenges with the loss of playmaker Fred Warner.
But bottom line, if BYU’s offense doesn’t wake up, take the lead and be the catalyst the program used to ride, it will be a very long season.
This is where it starts and ends this fall camp.