BYU sputtered offensively last season, failing to put up big scores and big yards consistently for the first time in a long time.
Changes were made in the offseason. Brandon Doman was promoted to offensive coordinator. Jake Heaps was firmly entrenched as the starter at quarterback. And plenty of talent returned at running back, receiver and the offensive line.
Given all that, expectations were ratcheted up for the offense in 2011.
But headed into its rivalry game against Utah on Saturday, the offense looks just as plodding as it did at the beginning of 2010.
Heaps has not gotten into much of a rhythm. The ground game has been nearly nonexistent. So have the big plays. The result? Here is where BYU ranks in the NCAA stats through two games:
No. 76 in passing offense, averaging 208.5 yards a game.
No. 108 in total offense, averaging 275.5 yards a game.
No. 107 in scoring offense, averaging 15 points a game.
No. 113 in passing offense, averaging 67 yards a game
“Offensively, we’re not happy with the amount of points we’ve put up on the board,” Heaps told ESPN.com this week. “We feel we could put up more and we should put up more. The way we’re driving the football, the way we’re able to move the football, we’re happy about that. Now it’s a matter of one or two plays we didn’t execute that cost us putting seven points on the board.
“We’re so close to just exploding. We’re so close to having this offense rise to what everybody thinks this offense should be and what our team believes this offense could be.”
The inconsistency has been particularly maddening. BYU took a 13-3 lead at halftime against Texas, but managed only a field goal the rest of the way. One of Heaps’ interceptions helped swing momentum to the Longhorns. After coming from behind to beat Ole Miss in the opener, the Cougars feel they let one get away in Austin.
“It’s extremely frustrating because we know we could have won that game, and we know we could have won it in dominant fashion,” Heaps said. “We left the door open for a good Texas football team. That’s no one else’s fault other than our own. We know we can play with anybody.
“We know we can dictate and control the game with the best of them. We just have to make sure we’re executing at a high level and putting together everything offensively. We can’t afford to make crucial errors on a play that could be a touchdown. We just can’t have that happen. The difference between putting three points on the board versus seven points on the board or zero points, there’s a huge difference.”
For his part, Heaps is 46-of-76 for 417 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. When asked what impact having a new offensive coordinator has had, Heaps said, “Coach Doman has done a great job coaching. Yeah, he’s going through some learning experiences himself, but our offense and our team has full confidence in every play he’s going to call. It’s our job to go out there and execute that play call. We could have walked away from that Texas game with the scoreboard a little bit different, and we take that very seriously offensively. I know these guys have taken it upon themselves not to let that stuff happen again.”
When asked for his assessment, coach Bronco Mendenhall said the offense needs more consistent go-to players.
“There’s still some searching for the right combination and the right identity in terms of run-pass ratio and in terms of the critical ball carriers and ball handlers at the right time,” Mendenhall said. “The offense … they want to win. They’re determined, diligent and right now those things are exceeding the level of execution. We have to get their execution to match their will.”
What will that take?
“We know we have all the talent and all the tools we need to be a great offense,” Heaps said. “That’s not in question. It’s just a matter of executing at the right times and being consistent in our execution and that’s a huge thing. We’ve been working on that and we’re going to keep getting better and better at that. We’re going to take off in that aspect hopefully sooner rather than later.”