There are many things that I love in life and very few that rank above college football. More specifically, I am a diehard BYU football fan. Before you start to make any judgments, please understand that diehard, in this case, does not equal irrational.
As much as I love BYU football, there is nothing I hate more than the large group of uninformed BYU football fans that exist here in the state of Utah. I could go on for hours about how much this demographic frustrates me, but I will share just one story that sums up this experience.
Last year, after BYU squeaked out a victory over lowly UNLV, a group of brainless wonders started to talk trash to a few of the Rebel fans in our section. I was so embarrassed that I entered the conversation, informing my fellow fans that we should be humiliated that we could barely beat an average UNLV squad. The response I received contained so many bro’s, dude’s and whatever’s that I couldn’t stand to be there any longer.
Now that it is apparent how much I loathe these ignoramuses, I want to clear up one of the largest complaints I have heard from these fans during the offseason.
After a disappointing end to the 2008 season, everyone looked for a scapegoat and the easy target was — and still is — BYU quarterback Max Hall. At first glance, he is the obvious reason for the demise of our Cougars but, if we take a look into the situation, we can see that the problems go way beyond Max. I know he was a major factor in that whole mess, but he is not the only culprit.
If we want to go back to the beginning, it is clear the Cougars’ downhill slide came after the UCLA and Wyoming games. At this juncture in the season, BYU players and coaches were getting a little too comfortable, especially offensive coordinator Robert Anae.
Last season, Anae’s offense was blessed with a bevy of talent. It’s not every year you get a bruising back, superior athletic tight end and a first-rate wide receiver on the same squad. His team was putting up big numbers in consecutive games and it seems like he figured, “Hey, if I run the same four plays the rest of the season, no one will notice. Heck, it worked against UCLA; Why not TCU and Utah?” It’s a darn shame those two teams developed the concept of watching game film.
I wonder if Anae’s bland play calling stems from the Bronco Mendenhall philosophy that his players will beat teams on execution, not talent. I wholeheartedly agree that execution is important, but it is downright silly to do the same thing over and over again and blame lack of success on poor execution.
During the TCU game, we all started to wonder why the Horned Frogs defense seemed to have a copy of our playbook. If they watched any of BYU’s previous games, they knew exactly what was coming. Our offense was more predictable than Mr. Rodgers’ morning routine.
In the following games, BYU was able to scorch opposing defenses on talent alone. Even when teams knew the play action pass to Collie was coming, they couldn’t stop it. This may work against the San Diego States and New Mexicos of the world, but not against teams with talent.
The offensive wheels started to come off against Air Force. They were able to put up good numbers, but were still shaky. The biggest drawback was the injury to Dennis Pitta in the fourth quarter, which proved to be more than consequential again Utah a week later.
Going into the Utah contest, it was widely known that Pitta’s injury was significant. They tried to wrap up his knee and use him as a decoy, but Utah wasn’t fooled. They could easily cover Pitta with a linebacker and move their focus to Collie. Instead of trying to get something out of a battered Pitta, the coaching staff should have subbed in Andrew George and/or Iona Pritchard to balance the offense.
The offense kept pace with surprisingly good balance during the Holy War’s first half, but that all changed when Anae went pass happy after the break. I know the BYU offense is a traditionally pass-oriented system, but when Harvey Unga is averaging 7.7 yards per carry, you have to keep giving him the rock.
Something else that should have been a red flag for Anae: the fact that Utah dropped nine players back into coverage on nearly every second half play. I don’t care who you are, when there are nine guys covering your four receivers, it’s pretty difficult to complete a pass. Anae put Hall in a situation where he was set up for failure — and fail he did.
I don’t doubt that Anae’s offensive system works. Ever since he became offensive coordinator back in 2005, BYU has posted above average numbers. The problem is that he fails to mix up the playbook, leaving players like Max Hall high and dry. BYU had a good thing going with their passing game, but failure to adapt and adjust spoiled it.
This season, look for BYU to have a more balanced offense. With a healthy Harvey Unga and the return of Manase Tonga, the Cougars should be able to run the ball consistently, opening things up for Max Hall and the passing game. If not, count on a repeat of last year’s Utah performance and for a certain Rhombus Magazine writer to call for the termination of one Robert Anae.
Jake Welch is a sports writer for Rhombus Magazine. He slightly disagrees with Robert Anae’s play calling choices. You can hear him rage on Twitter @jraywelch.
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