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SALT LAKE CITY — Being an offensive play-caller at BYU is a thankless job. Despite relatively poor compensation compared to most major FBS college assistants and a limited recruiting pool to work with (due to the school's strict Honor Code), BYU offenses have historically been explosive since LaVell Edwards took over the program.
With all of the success, however, comes very high expectations. When these expectations are not met, the grumbling in Happy Valley is palpable.
After "only" producing four Davey O'Brien award winners, a Heisman winner, an Outland Trophy winner and 12 seasons in the top 25 in scoring offense, Norm Chow found the mood towards him in Provo a little too frosty. Similarly, after producing the school's all-time leading rusher (twice), all-time leading receiver (twice) and winningest quarterback, Robert Anae decided to leave the Cougars following the 2010 season amidst loud criticism of his play-calling abilities.
After the learning curve turned out to be much too steep for Brandon Doman, Anae was brought back on as the offensive head honcho for the 2013 season. The atmosphere in 2013 was much the same as it was when he started his initial campaign in 2005: the Cougars had some returning playmakers on the offensive side of the ball but the unit, as a whole, had largely under-produced in no small part because of poor coaching and lack of a consistent offensive identity.
Statistically, this is how Anae fared in the first year of his two campaigns in Provo compared to his predecessors:
|2004 (Crowton)||2005 (Anae)|
|Points Per Game||24.3||68th||33.0||24th|
|Total Yards Per Game||406.3||43rd||475.0||13th|
|Passing Yards Per Game||301.9||9th||322.7||6th|
|3rd Down %||32.4%||94th||40.8%||24th|
|Red Zone % (TDs and FGs)||73.52%||90.0%||18th|
|Red Zone Trips % Ending with TD||58.82%||71.67%|
|2012 (Doman)||2013 (Anae)|
|Points Per Game||28.7||64th||31.3||51st|
|Total Yards Per Game||400.2||60th||495.3||13th|
|Passing Yards Per Game||247.2||50th||220.8||74th|
|Rushing Yards Per Game||153.0||66th||274.6||10th|
|3rd Down %||45.8%||30th||37.9%||86th|
|Red Zone % (TDs and FGs)||78.12%||90th||81.13%||72nd|
|Red Zone Trips % Ending with TD||62.5%||54th||49.06%||112th|
In most respects, Anae has been more successful as a play-caller in both stints than the offensive coordinator he took over for. When he installed his pass-happy variation of the Texas Tech offense in 2005, the Y averaged almost 9 more points a game than they did in 2004.
It is little wonder, then, that the team was significantly improved and made a bowl game after three consecutive losing seasons. Had it not been for a porous defense that allowed almost 28 points a game, the Cougars may have had a better record than 6-6.
After retaking the helm in 2013, following Doman being released from his play-calling duties, Anae installed a completely new offense with very different schemes, formations and objectives than the original offense he installed.
While the team's overall point and yardage production improved, Anae has still been the subject of heavy criticism in Provo. Many think that BYU was (again) a consistent offense away from a double-digit win season. While fans are not particularly known for objectivity and rational thinking, two statistics give credence to the thought that BYU's offense should have been much better this year (and consequently, had a better win-loss record).
Those two statistics are third down conversion percentage and red zone offense. In both of these categories, BYU was atrocious this year. While overall scoring percentage in the red zone saw a modest increase from 2012, the most troublesome statistic is that BYU only scored a touchdown on 49 percent of their possessions that made it to the red zone. This poor showing was good for 112th in the nation.
From these statistics, there are a few potential conclusions that can be drawn. Anae seems to have given BYU more of a chance to win than his predecessors did. This suggests that alternatives to Anae as a play-caller are perhaps not as attractive as some in Cougar Nation have thought.
If Y fans learned nothing else from Gary Crowton's and Brandon Doman's short runs as the offensive play-callers, it is that not just anyone can win and be successful with the unique circumstances BYU presents. Still, the feeling that BYU missed out on a special season due to some defects in the offense is not completely unmerited.
If the 2013 BYU offense had the same production in the red zone in terms of touchdowns percentage as they did in 2005, they would have averaged a whole touchdown more per game than they managed. That is nothing to scoff at considering that BYU lost two of their games by 7 or less.
In their four losses, BYU made it to the red zone 13 times but only scored six touchdowns on those drives. If a few more of those trips ended in touchdowns, this season may have been a lot different.
On an optimistic note, there is hope that Anae can fix his team's red zone problems. In every year but 2010 under Anae, BYU offenses scored touchdowns on at least 71 percent of their red zone trips. If Anae can get the Cougars back to this type of production, there is a good chance that 2014 could be a return to better days for BYU. If he cannot, however, Anae 2.0 might last about as long as the time his new offense takes between snaps.