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The BYU offense is ranked 72nd in the country. The defense is fifth. BYU’s passing offense is 86th in the nation. The pass defense is 12th, and it's No. 1 against the rush. The Cougars are 78th in scoring offense while they’re third in scoring defense. Huh? Are we in some episode of the “Twilight Zone” or should we say “Blue Zone.” That doesn’t work, because the Cougars have rarely made it there this year.
Yes, it’s a new world in Provo where BYU has emerged as one of the top defenses in the country, but the offense is lagging way behind. Why? There are many reasons, so here are your culprits for the offensive struggles that have turned “Quarterback U” into “Linebacker U.”
1. Bronco Mendenhall: It always starts with the head coach, so clearly he has to shoulder the most blame. Mendenhall ascended to the top job by being a great defensive coordinator. And as he continues to handle those duties, he is showing he’s one of the best in the country.Under his guidance, the Cougars have always had a solid defense, but now that the talent has been ratcheted up, he has an arsenal he’s never had to utilize before. And he’s taking advantage of it. The problem is Mendenhall has a history of staying focused only on the defense. He has always been open about that from the days of Robert Anai to now Brandon Doman. That is the problem. Mendenhall needs to put his head coaching hat on and decide what he wants the identity of his offense to be.
It went from an efficient Texas Tech-style quick passing game to now the current model that features running quarterbacks with limited arms. Mendenhall is big on the tradition of the BYU program. He might want to pop in some of those old videos featuring Gifford Neilsen, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Ty Detmer to remind him what a BYU offense should be.
2. Brandon Doman: The second-year offensive coordinator hasn’t had an easy time of it since taking over. He has been under fire for the lack of the overall production of the offense to the benching of Jake Heaps to catering an offense around Riley Nelson — all heart but limited talent.
The latest mishap was a miscommunication on the sideline resulting in Taysom Hill suffering a season-ending knee injury running a needless play late in the fourth quarter against Utah State. To Doman’s defense, he was doing a good job up to that point bringing the freshman along and catering to his strengths. The problem though is that it was Doman who decided to change the identity of the offense that now has resulted in two quarterbacks getting hurt this season.
3. Riley Nelson: He has grit, heart, fire, leadership and is a risk taker. He has all the qualities that you love in a football player or any person in life in general. But he has one major flaw — he can’t throw the ball. It’s kind of an important quality you need in a quarterback. All his natural gifts can lead his team to victories against teams like New Mexico State, Weber State and the Idahos of the world but won’t get it done versus the tough teams on the schedule.Name me one big game he has won? Exactly. With all that said, you can’t put all the blame on him for his ascension to the starter’s job. Heck, his story can be made into a Disney movie. The problem is the coaching staff has gotten too emotionally attached to the kid and in turn the offense has suffered.
4. Jake Heaps: I can hear BYU fans right now, “Not him again! Good riddance!” I hear you, but realize there was a reason he was the No. 1 ranked quarterback coming out of high school and was recruited by so many top schools. He has talent. Now the stories you hear about entitlement and work ethic probably are true and in the end was a big part of his demise.
He also struggled his sophomore season, but it was against the toughest part of the schedule, and he was working with a first-year offensive coordinator trying to find his way. But because he didn’t do everything he needed to do to succeed and earn the respect of his teammates, he gave Nelson the opportunity that convinced Mendenhall and Doman to shift to the offense you see today.
While other factors have played into the downfall of the BYU offense, such as below par offensive line play, transfers and injuries, it still always goes back to the coaches and, as always at BYU, the quarterback. Until the focus returns to an offense where the quarterback throws the ball more than running, “Quarterback U” will be known as “Quarterback P U.”