COMMENTARY — It’s a tough week to be a BYU columnist for St George News and frankly I am not sure what direction to take this article other than a little venting from a fan’s point of view.
After four straight losses coming off its 4-0 start, BYU seems to be sliding into a hole they may not come out of for some time. With a bowl game now becoming its number one goal for 2014 its hard for most who care to swallow. The Boise State game went about how I honestly thought it would, other than I actually gave BYU a shot if the defense could actually show up. But the D was AWOL and it was embarrassing. In fact the Cougars have allowed 40.75 points per game over the last four played.
In last week’s article, I put this game on the back of Bronco Mendenhall’s defense, since it seems he is calling all the plays now, and I don’t even recall them making it out on to the Smurf Turf. They may have been a speed bump to Boiste State scoring, but that was about it.
BYU’s offense did manage to put up 30 points on the Boise defense, but that’s not obviously good enough if your defense gives up 55. For the second straight week, I will not even go into details about the last game because there are no highlights, unless you are from Idaho and a fan of Boise State. BSU proved again that BYU’s current players and staff were no match for their 2014 sub par program. This Broncos team is not the same team it’s been over the past decade, but the Cougars made them look like it. My hat is off to Boise State as they are a solid team that should win the Mountain West Conference this year. BYU should have been able to turn this game into a shootout, but there are no teams out there that can beat another team when playing on the road and the opposing team scores 55 points.
BYU is now going into the weaker end of its 2014 schedule, facing very beatable teams including Middle Tennesse, UNLV, Savannah State and Cal.. That last statement would be true if BYU was playing even remotely well at this time, but I have my doubts. Can BYU even become bowl eligible and win six games? Only time will tell, but unless something changes it might miss a bowl game for the first time in nearly a decade.
It’s crazy to think that just over a month ago, many people were wondering which bowl would BYU be going to if they stayed undefeated. I personally never rode that bandwagon, but still thought if they won all but one or two maybe they could finally go to a end of the year or first of next year bowl game. Unfortunately, with all of the excuses floating around this year, even a crappy bowl may not be enough to make fans and alumni happy.
There have been a lot of rising voices of old BYU players speaking out and the consensus is obviously that this situation is not acceptable. If you think about BYU’s storied history of being a winning program and compare that to what they are now, well, it’s not good, any way you look at it.
I am also one of those ol’ alumni voices speaking that same language of disappointment. This side of negativity is always a bad side to be on when you care about something, but it’s time for some real changes at BYU. Year after year I sit back and watch BYU lose games to teams they should beat easily. I also watch as the Cougars win games that they should win, and everyone thinks they may be on track again. This is getting a little old for my taste. If you do not win, you have to change things. And maybe that means going all the way to the top.
When you take into consideration that the Cougars typically have 3, 4 or even 5 cupcake teams on their schedule, they should be able to pull off 10 wins a season regularly as a benchmark. In my honest opinion right now, this program is not on track and needs some changes to get back on track. I guess for now I am one voice out of many that are either thinking or saying the same things. So maybe if enough squeaky voices start to speak out, the old analogy of “the squeakiest wheel gets the oil” may be what it takes to get some things straightened out with BYU’s football program. If enough former players and alumni make noise, maybe things will start to change so we can be proud this time of year next season. If everyone keeps sitting around making excuses and hoping things change, they won’t. Only by taking some action will things get turned around in Provo, and I am afraid some people in leadership roles in that organization don’t belong.
Here are some things I believe that need to be changed with the BYU football program to make it a winning team again.
First, BYU is the fourth most penalized team in the country. This shows me no discipline and pure laziness all the way around. You can not be a competitive winning team these days if that is your best national statistic. That BYU currently has 698 total penalty yards off 75 penalties and we’re only 8 games into the season is embarrassing! I remember the old days when I played on all levels, from high school to the pros, where for every penalty, we ran and did extra conditioning. What are these coaches doing to eliminate them? Or is there so little pride at BYU that this has just become acceptable?
I have been saying that the Cougars need to eliminate penalties in virtually every one of my articles so far in 2014 and nothing ever changes. Sadly, it’s become the norm. You cannot beat a team if you beat yourself and this factor alone has to change. Here is a challenge for the rest of this season and off-season: How about it 2015 BYU becomes one of the least penalized teams in Division 1 football. Every flag I’ve seen thrown against the Cougars hinders or kills drives on the offensive side of the ball. On defense they keep the ball moving down the field for scoring plays. This is so simple. And yet, it keeps being a problem.
Second, BYU has very little depth and experience past some of the starters on offense and defense. Great teams have players that step up and fill roles better than the guys in front of them, given the opportunity. This isn’t happening at BYU and it’s because of a lack of depth on this roster. All you hear about is how injuries have plagued this team and that’s the main reason they are losing. Well that’s an excuse and no one wants to hear it! When one person goes down for the Cougars it always causes a void that does not get filled properly in their team.
Because of this lack of depth, BYU needs to start bringing in more JC transfers until they establish a competitive system for scholarships again. Lavell Edwards had it figured out to where they had players come and go on missions and there are no gaps left to be filled. But he also used Ricks College, Snow College and Dixie State transfers to add extra depth to the roster. Picking up more junior college transfers will give them more physically mature players who are currently ready to compete at the D-1 level.
Lets face it here, return missionaries need a year once they are back to be in any shape to compete adequately at the level which this program hopes to compete. This is not about religion, but about football when I say this. God does not help either team win a football game. He does not choose sides in football! I have heard this same thing come out of coach Andy Reid’s mouth in a Philadelphia Eagles locker room before a game. Let’s pick BYU’s players by the best possible player who can keep the honor code to keep eligible.
If changing up recruiting to make the team deeper at all positions is not the fix, then look at reasons that the majority of starting players are getting injured. This could very well be a strength and conditioning issue on this team. At one point in time I had watched five or six players sitting out of a game with ankle problems. Is that just coincidence, or a problem with the physical capabilities of this team? I look around at the players and won’t question their toughness but maybe that’s an issue too. I don’t ever recall sitting out for a play, let alone a game or two with a rolled ankle. I played 14 years of very competitive football and don’t recall that being a problem on any team like it has been with BYU this year.
Another suggestion for BYU is to STOP being so predictable! That is extremely obvious if you watch these games weekly as a football fan and not as a diehard BYU fan. People sometime put their blinders on when they are passionate about their favorite sports teams. If you remove that emotional brain block and start to watch this team as a college football fan instead, you will start to see things clearly.
This predictability comes from both the offense and defense. Teams have all keyed in on BYU’s offensive and defensive tendencies. I watch as the opposing offenses counteract all of the defensive blitzes and pressures with ease. Teams just pick apart every move the Cougars coaching staff has made this year. Play calling is a coaching issue and midway through a season is not when you try to change your play-calling style. Things can be adjusted to try to make things better, but at this point it’s what they can do for next year that really matters. Implementation of play calling strategies should have been done in the last off-season between first and second string QBs, skill players and defensive squads. I did not see a sufficient play-calling change when offensive coordinator Robert Anea went from Taysom Hill to Christian Stewart. Maybe to them they are more similar, but to me they are practically polar opposites.
Next, the Cougars need to start playing defense and not matching other people’s speed and tempo weekly. When your defense is something to be feared by offensive coordinators, it makes the game that much easier on your own offense and special teams. Bronco’s defense two years ago was a top 10 ranked defense and they won games by keeping the score down by opposing teams. Too many times over the last few years, we watch BYU put a good game together for one half and then let teams come back and walk all over them. Even with a couple of BYU’s wins this year, they have let teams back into the game when the opposing offense just picks BYU’s defense apart. Why not establish a lead and put the pedal to the floor and keep a commanding lead? I have watched time and time again as BYU, with the lead, seems to stop putting pressure on a QB and play far too passive. It lets other teams back into the game and puts the Cougars special teams and offense into bad positions.
Critically, the Cougars have got to win the games they are highly-favored to win. BYU loses more games they are favored to win than I remember in many years. On the flip side, they lose most of the games they are supposed to lose. Beating a team that you should beat should be a no-brainer, especially the in-state rivalry games! In recent years, BYU has really struggled to win games vs. its in-state foes. This does not help local high school recruiting and demoralizes everyone inside the BYU program and fans. After losing the majority of its in-state games over the last few years, BYU is now thought of as the number three team in the state of Utah. Ouch.
BYU has brought in some good recruits as of late from outside of the typical recruiting geography, which is a good thing, and they need more of it. I start to get excited, but then I see things each year that I do not personally agree with. Maybe I only see what’s in the news and don’t know all the details, but it seems to me BYU will have a tough time recruiting elite players nationally when they suspend so many of them every year! How can BYU compete with all the power 5 conferences in recruiting if they do not support their players fully?
Some of these past transfers have NFL-caliber potential and prove it, but are few and far between because the honor code lessens the recruiting pool size. Why has BYU brought players in to compete and then they treat them like a player off an opposing team when faced with adversity? By no means am I saying to ignore NCAA rule violations, illegal acts or Honor Code violations that may occur, but seriously stick up for your players and handle stuff internally sometimes. There is a correct way to penalize or punish a player, but it seems to me that BYU’s program has time and time again punished the entire team for one or two player’s mistakes. At the start of this 2014 season, I can’t even recall how many key players were suspended for off field events (Jamaal Williams, Devon Blackmon, Robertson Daniel and Jordan Johnson come to mind). I am no judge or jury here, but if BYU wants to keep great players coming to Provo, they have to stand up for them.
Football players, when I attended BYU, were held to a high standard in the classroom, on the football field and in life. I know they still are and should be held to the Honor Code, but what is the problem then? Why are all these great players coming to BYU and getting taken off the field? Is it a coaching problem and could this be the same thing causing all of the penalties? There is obviously a discipline problem in Provo, but you don’t have to sabotage your team by keeping players off the field. Don’t recruit them if you don’t want to play them. I do not hold all the answers to the off field problems, but they have them at BYU.
To me it seems simple right now. Too many pieces of the puzzle are out of place to be a real national contender. BYU football needs to get its act together and win three of the next four games to make it to a bowl game. That seems feasible to pull off right? After that, make some changes so you can rebuild this program to win by putting the right coaches in the places to give you the best chance. A couple of coaches should be replaced in certain areas, or moved to different positions of management of the team. Start to recruit players that can help the team out for next year, not players who can possibly help in 3 years when they get home from a mission. If the Cougars do not find some depth and great new talent, next year will be more of the same. This program needs to be fixed ASAP, so Bronco and his staff should worry about finding the best talent (players and coaches) that will possibly sign with BYU moving forward. Off-season should be built around staying healthy and becoming tougher. Establish a nasty offensive and defensive line
The next challenge for the BYU Cougars will be a road game against the 5-3 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee is just coming off a bye week, so they have had an extra week of preparation and rest. The game is Saturdayat 3:30 p.m. The Blue Raiders of Conference USA have beaten a few solid teams this year like Southern Miss, Savannah State and several other decent programs. They have lost games to Memphis, Marshall and Minnesota.
On offense, the Blue Raiders are averaging 36 points per game while their defense is giving up 31.9 point per game. At running back, the Blue Raiders favor Reggie Whately and Jordan Parker for their rushing game. QB Austin Grammer is currently averaging 236.6 yards with 11 passing touchdowns on the season, with another five rushing TDs.
Grammer will need to be pressured often and forced to make bad decisions if BYU is to win. Again, this game will fall on the shoulders of the Cougars defense. BYU’s offense should show up and score some points, but can Bronco’s defense keep Middle Tennessee to fewer points this season is the only unanswered question?
Vegas oddsmakers have BYU the four-point favorite this week and I don’t really know why. I really want them to at least show up and compete at a high level, but without change, I do not see that happening this week. BYU continues to play down to every other team’s level, but maybe that’s just their character on the field. I would expect the players to start having their own team meetings to try and figure things out here, but maybe there is too much chaos in Provo right now.
Blue Blood is a weekly column written by former BYU captain Scott Young. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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