Pictured: BYU QB Tanner Mangum talking to former Offensive Coordinator Ty Detmer via heraldextra.com
Forewarning: this is longer than your average football article.
In 2007, California native Dennis Dixon took the field as a Senior QB for the Oregon Ducks. His Junior season didn’t go the way he wanted it to where, despite showing promise, he was benched for another QB. That move, it turned out, was a poor choice by then offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, as the Ducks would go on to lose three of their final four games with Dixon on the bench. That was a mistake he wasn’t going to make twice. After their first 7 games Oregon was ranked #2 in the nation, and Dixon was a legitimate Heisman candidate! Their only loss of the year came in their 5th game of the season. The showdown was against his hometown team, Cal – the same team he lost to the year before which resulting in him being benched. He hadn’t even thrown a single interception all year until that game, and still had a promising closing drive which would have tied the game, where the game was lost by a teammate’s fumble.
Pictured: Former Oregon QB Dennis Dixon escapes USC’s defense via preferredwalkons.wordpress.com
The Oregon Ducks were soaring, and Gary Crowton was looking like an offensive genius. However, Dixon’s season was cut short because of a knee injury while playing Arizona State. Oregon had a BYE week before their next matchup, against Arizona, and the team was hopeful Dixon would be able to return to action by then with some rest. He was cleared to play, but in the first quarter he tore his ACL and was out for the remainder of the season.
With their star player out, Oregon struggled. At their lowest point, they were blanked by UCLA 16-0 and lost to Oregon St, their in-state rival, whom they had now lost to for the second year in a row.
This was a team, mind you, that had Jonathan Stewart – long-time and current Carolina Panther – in the backfield. They finally got things put back together in time for their bowl game, where they defeated ranked USF, who had a similar record, in the Sun Bowl at El Paso, TX.
“Losing a Heisman Trophy candidate – the leading Heisman Trophy candidate – was a big blow,” tenured Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who had just finished his 13th season as Oregon head coach, said at the time. “It took us a couple of games to recover.” (http://www.espn.com/ncf/recap/_/id/273652483)
A similar situation was faced by BYU Cougar faithful in 2014. Promising returning starter, Taysom Hill, had a hot, fast start to the season, winning 5 games in a row. He was injured against in-state rival Utah State, and with backup QB Christian Stewart under center they would go on to lose against Utah State and the following 3 games before recovering.
At the helm of this adventure was Bronco Mendenhall, who was in his 10th year as BYU’s head coach at the time, and Robert Anae, in his 6th year as offensive coordinator (on and off.)
These are stories of tragedy befalling a promising offense and derailing what would have otherwise been a – potentially – incredible season. With some time, these teams were able to get back on track.
Contrast these stories against the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes. At 11-1, the #6 Buckeyes worst fear became a reality – their electric QB, JT Barrett, after throwing for a TD and running for 2 more, broke his ankle and was lost for the season. This was the final regular season game of the year. The only games that remained were the conference championship, which would be against #13 Wisconsin, and the bowl game. They were on track to go to the inaugural College Football Playoffs! They could have competed for a National Championship! Their backup QB, Cardale Jones had attempted 2 passes his entire college career before being thrust into the spotlight against one of their most hated rivals. All was lost.
The very next game, against the #13 team in the nation, Cardale Jones threw for over 250 yards, 3 TD’s and 0 INT’s. His effectiveness as a QB was buoyed by an impressive 220 yard, 2 TD rushing game by someone named Ezekiel Elliott, but who could have guessed that with their backup QB and against one of the best teams in the nation, Ohio State would not only win their Big 10 Championship game but would blow out their opponent 59 to 0!
The Buckeyes continued to ride their workhorse and defeated Alabama, with Jones throwing for another 240 yards, then Oregon where he threw for another 240 yards.
Pictured: Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer celebrates with team after defeating Oregon in the National Championship via espn.com
How was Ohio State able to do the impossible? I’ll leave that to professionals to say for sure, but it definitely didn’t hurt that Elliott ran for a combined nearly 700 yards and 8 TD’s in 3 games. Also, don’t forget, that by the end of 2014 Urban Meyer had been a head coach in division 1 college football for 11 years and had already won multiple National Championships.
Injuries are a football team’s worst enemy, and it’s a persistent enemy. No team is exempt! The difference between great teams and everyone else is measured by their ability to overcome the obstacles they will inevitably come across during the season.
All 3 of the stories mentioned above had an experienced staff and a solid running game. Among the head coaches named, when their terrible QB injury-related tragedy occurred they had over 30 years of division 1 college head coaching experience between them.
Now let’s talk about Ty Detmer. The 1990 Heisman Trophy winner has been around football his whole life. He was doing great as a high school coach in Texas, where after 5 years of slowly improving a winless team his team was posting winning records and outscoring their opponents on an average of 33.2 points.
Exit Bronco Mendenhall. Enter Kalani Sitake and Ty Detmer. Kalani had never been a college head coach before. Ty had never been a college offensive coordinator before.
2016 was called a transition year, and went better than expected! The offense was underwhelming at times and relied heavily on the running ability of superstar Jamaal Williams and inhuman Taysom Hill. BYU’s offense, despite the criticism it received, was scoring an average of almost 30 points a game, and hit its peak in a whopping 55 points against Toledo. Following that outburst, BYU’s offense did not score less than 20 points in the remaining 8 games of the season.
Pictured: Former BYU QB Taysom Hill hands off to former BYU RB Jamaal Williams via lawlessrepublic.com
Before the season began, many fans tried to temper their expectations and would have been satisfied with simply making a bowl game. Going 9-4 was a fantastic year! Expectations soared for 2017. With the transition completed, this young, inexperienced, but promising coaching staff was set to do incredible things!
Then the enemy struck: obstacles.
The running game, which the 2016 offense hung its hat on, struggled. In the very first game of the year, the tandem of Squally Canada and Kavika Fonua were uninspiring against Division 2 foe, Portland St. Perhaps as a result of such and other contributing factors, QB Tanner Mangum completed an uninspiring 60% of his passes, for an average of 12 yards per completion. No receiver caught more than 3 balls the entire game. It was a slow, boring, game.
What was the reason for the slow start? Only a few can say for sure, but things were not working the way they were supposed to.
Then the real test came: LSU, who finished the season 9-3 (bowl game results pending) had one of the best defenses BYU would see all year (only two teams could claim offensive success against them this year.) BYU got beat up on both sides of the ball. Not a single running back gained more than 10 yards on the ground, and Mangum couldn’t carry the team as he only completed half of his pass attempts. Pass versus run in that game: 24 to 14.
Pictured: BYU QB Tanner Mangum gets caught by LSU’s defense via vanquishthefoe.com
Utah. A winnable game. Again, the running game was missing its superstars! Touches transitioned to Kavika Fonua, who averaged 2.75 rush yards per attempt. Eventually the role passed to Ula Tolutau, whose 5 rushing attempts averaged 5 yards (almost double!) and brought some life to the offense! It was too little, too late, as the defense had lost respect for the running game and made Tanner beat them with his arm. For his efforts, Mangum left the game with an injury! Pass versus run: 39 to 18.
At this point, the inexperienced coaching staff had come across major obstacles and had not yet been able to overcome them! Not only did they struggle without their run game, but also only 3 games into the season and they lost their starting QB!
Enter Wisconsin, who went undefeated in the regular season! I submit that while the Cougar’s performance was perhaps at its worst, most teams (even teams with 10+ division 1 head coaching experience) would not have performed well in this game, either. The backup QB struggled and despite a decent effort by their RB (4.46 average) there wasn’t enough offensive power to overcome.
Maybe, if BYU had Jamaal Williams, 2017 would have gone different. Maybe, if BYU had Ezekiel Elliott, or Jonathan Stewart, BYU might have been able to compete against LSU and may not have been as embarrassed against Wisconsin. Maybe. But no such superstar existed on the roster.
The very next game BYU looked to have gotten back on track. This is significant. For an experienced Bronco Mendenhall and an experienced Mike Bellotti, it took them at least 3 games to get back on track (and that’s with some superstars on the roster!) However, BYU took yet another hit at QB when Beau Hoge went down before the end of the game.
Pictured: BYU QB Beau Hoge getting attention from teammates after getting hurt in a game via deseretnews.com
That was the turning point of the season.
It took 3 additional games (remember that number?) for the offense to get back on track and by that point it was too late. At that point competing against MWC Champion runner-up Fresno State – before the QB went down again – no longer interested the fans. Putting up 31 points against a team that had just come off a win over Fresno State in UNLV had no excitement. Putting up 30 points against Hawaii, which put them in similar company with the rest of the Mountain West, was no longer important.
Why did Ty Detmer fail as an offensive coordinator? Because, in his inexperience, he was not able to overcome nearly impossible odds.
Pictured: BYU’s new Offensive Coordinator, Jeff Grimes via deseretnews.com
Jeff Grimes? Welcome to the party, pal!
Arizona, California, Wisconsin, and Washington.
Those are 4 of our first 5 games next year.
I’m no professional analyst of the game of football. All I have going for me is I’ve watched a lot of football and I’ve seen a lot of good teams and I’ve seen a lot of bad teams. It seems to my untrained eye that if Sitake and Grimes want to turn the team around in 2018 the following things need to happen:
- Take some Vitamin-C (or something) and fight off that injury bug!
There is no single thing more important to BYU’s season next year than to keep their QB’s healthy. I dare say they should do this at *no matter the cost.*
Grimes has more college coaching experience than Detmer, and may be able to overcome challenges with depth and injuries better at this point in either of their coaching careers, but unless we pull an Urban Meyer out of our scripture totes losing our starting QB most likely = 3 automatic losses.
- Establish a run game.
In this, Grimes may be more capable than Detmer right now as an offensive coordinator. While acting as offensive-line coach and running-game coordinator, Grimes never had a player rush for less than 1,000 yards each season. Want to know how amazing that is? This year, 2017, infamous Alabama Crimson tide will enter the College Football playoff to play #1 Clemson, the team they lost to in the National Championship game last year, without a 1,000 yard rusher. That’s right! RB-U did not have a 1,000 rusher this year.
Next year Grimes returns every single major rushing contributor from 2017.
- Squally Canada. Will be a Senior, 710 rushing yards last year, 6 TD’s (battled injury)
- KJ Hall. Will be a Junior, 317 rushing/receiving yards, 1 TD (battled injury)
- Ula Tolutau. Will be a Sophomore, 303 rushing yards, 2 TD’s (battled injury)
- Austin Kafentzis. Will be a Junior, 227 rushing yards, 1 TD (mostly as QB)
- Brayden El-Bakri. Will be a Senior, 147 rushing/receiving yards, 2 TD’s (mostly as FB)
- Trey Dye. Will be a Senior, 108 rushing/receiving yards, 1 TD (battled injury)
- Riley Burt. Will be a Junior, 104 rushing yards, 1 TD (switched between offense & defense)
- Kavika Fonua. Will be a Senior, 87 rushing yards (injured, may not return)
In that list he may not have a Jonathan Stewart, but without an efficient running game BYU will once again struggle on offense. The offensive line can only do so much if the RB group is grasping at straws for who their workhorse will be.
- Milk Grimes’s experience for all its worth!
For the first time since Sitake took over as head coach of BYU, there’s a coach with experience among the offensive staff. If Grimes had been brought in 2 years ago but the same (generally considered uncontrollable) issues with injuries occurred, who can say for sure things would have been different? However, with experience comes confidence, and with confidence crazy things can happen (see: college football upsets from every single year.) He’ll bring an identity to the offense and perhaps, someday, BYU will have as good an offense as it does a defense, or vice versa, and a something magical can happen in Provo once again.
Pictured: BYU celebrates winning the National Championship via heraldextra.com
A wise man once said that BYU either has a great offense and a bad defense, or a great defense and a bad offense. Only a few times has it ever had both and those were seasons for the history books. It is worth note that during Ty Detmer’s high school coaching career it wasn’t until his 6th season as head coach that things went from good to special. Unfortunately, college football can’t wait that long. Despite BYU’s self-image of being smart and conservative, even Gary Crowton didn’t make it past 4 seasons (let’s not talk about Brandon Doman as OC.) I have no doubt that Ty Detmer has the ability to be one of the best college coaches of all time someday, but right now Jeff Grimes may have all the tools that Ty Detmer didn’t (yet) to get the program back on track through winning games and going to bowls.
There is yet hope, Cougar faithful. 2017 was the worst year BYU football has experienced in decades and only part of that was due to the inexperience of our offensive coaching staff. With the hire of Jeff Grimes we have vastly improved in the experience department, and if we can avoid similar bad luck in 2018 I see no reason why we shouldn’t be bowl eligible again.
Early look at 2018 schedule:
Should win – (5) McNesse State, Utah State, Hawaii, UMass, New Mexico State
Fighting chance – (5) Arizona, California, Northern Illinois, Boise State, Utah
Would be huge – (2) Wisconsin, Washington
Win the games you should win and some of the toss-ups = we’re going bowling!
Happy off-season, everyone!