Blue Blood: Time for Cougars to decide who they really are

COMMENTARY – Identity check time in Provo! BYU needs to decide who they are going to be this season.

The questions sound familiar: Can BYU’s offense return to the high-scoring days of old? Does the defense have to once again keep the Cougars in the game until the very end? Will there be consistent play at quarterback?

Do those queries sound like the same ones I posted most of the season in 2012? Let me answer that: YES, they do.

This season will either go one of two ways from this point: It will either turn into another year of would-ofs, could-of and should-ofs … or this team can wake up and start winning and play to its potential. It gets kind of old making excuses to myself while watching BYU give games away. It is only Week 2, but come on! Who wants to read a weekly column about the same old thing?

I am at least honest with myself as I sit down to compose these weekly articles. I am a realist, and from what I saw last Saturday, a whole team’s attitude needs to be changed. The Cougars need an identity, especially on offense. And they need it now.

In Saturday’s 19-16 loss at Virginia, BYU showed only a few flashes of the offense in which offensive coordinator Robert Anae is known for and is trying to reestablish in Provo. BYU’s “Go Fast and Go Hard” mentality has one major weakness. If the offense struggles with consistency and has issues like dropped passes, missed blocks and penalties, it will slow the offense to a turtle’s pace. Who cares how “Hard and Fast” the offense goes if it ends with a punt or turnover? That just means they put more weight on their great defense,

Don’t get me wrong, this fast paced offense can be a great thing and I do like the idea. But the offense has to convert. My impression is that we are still watching the coaching staff working out the kinks and getting on the same page as their players. I expect better offensive results as the season progresses.

One especially frustrating aspect of the Virginia game is that much of last week’s poor offensive performance resembled the struggles from a season ago. I suppose we can give the O a pass this past week, since it was the first game in a new system. But this “Go Fast and Go Hard” mentality can work against the Cougars if they keep failing to convert.

While it was similar to last season, as far as the offensive woes, the cause may be a little different. I’d say 80 percent of last week’s offensive issues were caused by missed blocks. As a whole, BYU’s skilled positions showed much improvement from 2012. But the O-line needs help fast.

As a former BYU and NFL O-lineman, I know a little about play in the trenches and I feel that I have some insight to the biggest reason the Cougars struggled offensively last week. The Cougars’ O-line showed great effort, but very little technique. At this point in the season, with the competition they will be seeing week in and week out, you need technique more than ever.

I liked seeing that the O-line came out of fall camp in great shape and the subtle rotations did not throw the offensive timing off at all. Linemen are generally much bigger in physical stature and that’s what saves them when they don’t have perfect technique. But BYU’s line is the smallest I have seen in many years, which makes proper technique absolutely critical. Without good technique, they will continue to get out-played by these faster defensive linemen. How long can Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams stay healthy when they are getting smashed every other play. I expect the focus in this week’s practices will be to give the QB more time and keep the defense off the ball-handlers.

It also didn’t help that All-American candidate Cody Hoffman stood helplessly on the sidelines after having issues with his hamstring. Without Hoffman, BYU’s receivers had a hard time getting open. For the record, BYU is now entering Week 2 with the 94th-ranked offense in the country.

My hat’s off to Bronco Mendenhall’s great defense yet again.The Cavaliers’ only two touchdown drives came after BYU miscues. A blocked punt in the third quarter resulted in a 3-play, 11-yard drive. And the now infamous late-game interception with 2:41 left in the game set up a 1-play, 13-yard drive. This defense looks to be very solid and players like defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, DBs Daniel Sorenson, Spencer Hadley, stepped it up and played solid all the way around.

Incidentally, the aforementioned costly interception was certainly painful and the decision to pass the ball in that situation was questionable, at best. But people seem to forget that BYU’s offense had the ball twice after that and only managed one first down, which came on a desperation pass as time expired.

Nevertheless, that game is history. What can we expect this week?

The Cougars have a tough game vs. Mack Brown’s squad, the Texas Longhorns. Texas won its first game easily against New Mexico State, 56 -7 (though it was just 14-7 at the half). BYU leads the all-time series vs. Texas, 2-1. The Longhorns are clearly the favorite in this game. BYU is listed as a 7-point underdog.

Though Texas is off to a good start, the ‘Horns have had some real struggles on the defensive side of the ball as of late. In 2012, Texas gave up an average of 403 yards per game (191 rushing). West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas State combined to score 153 points against UT, an average of 53 points per game in those three losses. The Longhorns have addressed some of these issues, but BYU should be able to move the ball vs. this defense. If the Cougars can’t move the ball, clearly they are in bigger trouble than most people are thinking.

Texas is full of great talent on the offensive side of the ball. QB David Ash had 343 passing yards in last week’s game vs. New Mexico State. BYU will need to get to this QB to keep pressure off its weaker secondary. The Cougars also need to keep an eye on receiver Malcom Brown and running back Jalen Johnson. They both also had exceptional season-openers. BYU’s defense has its hands full with this Longhorns offense that averaged 35 points a game last year.

Taysom Hill went 13 for 40 for 175 yards of passing in last week’s loss. Although much improved from his little playing time from 2012, he needs to get better and become more consistent. No one will ever question his athletic ability. His decision-making is on par for his experience level. Like the rest of the team, he needs to establish an identity. Is he another Riley Nelson or can he eventually conjure up images of a Steve Young or Robbie Bosco? This young QB will need a little help from his offense to turn things around in Provo. BYU’s air game suffered when Hoffman couldn’t go, but no one else stepped up to fill the void. Is there a lack of offensive leadership coming from the players? A couple of players from the offensive side need to step up and give better leadership. I believe Taysom Hill will have a much better performance on his home field this Saturday.

Jamaal Williams had 33 caries for a total of 144 yards on the ground. This sophomore running back is on course to have another big season following his 1,090-yard (rushing and receiving) freshman year. He will carry this team, but how far can he go without a lot of help? He will prove to be a workhorse this season and hopefully he can keep in good health. Texas will key on him and have to slow him down to beat BYU in Provo.

If the Cougars can pull off a win against the Longhorns, it would be absolutely huge for the program and would erase a lot of the bad feelings from Week 1. It would redirect the course of this team and get it heading back in the correct direction. And it might just give this 2013 BYU team an identity it can be proud of.

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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