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Inexperienced Coordinators Damage BYU’s Chance For Offensive Success

Photos courtesy of Deseret News/KSL Sports illustration

Editor’s note: First of a three-part series exploring the issues with BYU football’s offense in the last decade.

PROVO, Utah – What is wrong with BYU’s offense? Since 1976, the Cougars have only hired two offensive coordinators who had previous experience before taking the role in Provo. 

Ten years ago, BYU ended an incredible four-year stretch that consisted of 43 wins and national rankings to end each of those seasons. At that time, no one could have envisioned BYU’s offense struggling the way that they have over the last decade.

So again, what is wrong with BYU’s offense over the last decade?

If you polled the BYU fan base, my hunch would be that a majority of the fans would place blame on the Cougars offensive coordinator hires.

We started to dig into the numbers and BYU’s offensive struggles go deeper than just the offensive coordinators. But BYU OC’s play a huge role in the makeup of these offenses. 

In part one of this four-part series examining the issues with BYU’s offense, let’s take a deeper look at the Cougars offensive coordinators since 2010.

Robert Anae 1.0 (2005-2010)

Anae was the offensive coordinator during BYU’s modern-day golden era from 2006-2009. In 2010, youth and inexperience caught up with BYU and the Cougars offensive numbers fell off a cliff compared to where they were the previous four years.

BYU was 73rd in total offense averaging 366.5 yards per game and was 70th nationally in scoring at 26.2 points. It’s the third-lowest output from a BYU offense in terms of yards since 2010.

After a 7-6 season, Anae was asked to reapply for his job and he wasn’t brought back.

Brandon Doman (2011-2012)

Doman, a former BYU quarterback, was the Cougars QB coach from 2005-2010 under Robert Anae. After letting go of Anae, Doman was elevated to offensive coordinator, his first time being an OC.

The plan was to bring back the BYU offense of old paired with some west coast principles which many felt would align perfectly with heralded sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps.

BYU’s dream to have the Cougar offense of old was short-lived. In the first year of Independence, BYU opened the season against Ole Miss, Texas, and rival Utah scoring a total of 40 points in those first three games and posting a 1-2 record.

A few weeks later, Heaps was benched and the Cougars moved forward with Riley Nelson at quarterback. Heaps transferred after the 2011 season.

In two years, Doman’s offenses were 41st and 60th nationally in total offense and 42nd and 64th in scoring for those years.

The difficult part to swallow for Cougar fans during Doman’s tenure as OC is the 2012 season. BYU had one of the three best defenses in college football that season. Only National Championship game participants Alabama and Notre Dame were better defensively than BYU in 2012. 

If the offense delivered like Cougar attacks of old, like originally planned, 2012 could have been a special year.

Games against Boise State and Notre Dame leave BYU fans feeling more was on the table for the Cougars that season.

Robert Anae 2.0 (2013-2015)

Robert Anae had two goals when he was rehired to be BYU’s offensive coordinator again. He wanted “to go fast” and “to go hard.” Every local radio station had their new favorite drop.

The Go fast, Go hard offense was born.

When Anae was rehired, it surprised many fans. Names like former Colorado and Boise State head coach Dan Hawkins were tossed around as a potential candidate, but it was never confirmed if BYU had an interview or not with him about the opening.

When Anae was re-hired, he was the first offensive coordinator BYU had hired that had previous offensive coordinator experience since Doug Scovil in the 1970s.

There was skepticism when Anae was hired, but that skepticism quickly turned into harsh criticism as BYU ran 93 plays on offense and only produced 16 points in their season-opening loss against a bad Virginia team on the road in 2013.

BYU then bounced back with a historic rushing performance from Taysom Hill against Texas to the tune of 259 yards and 550 as a team in a lobsided 40-21 victory over No. 15 Texas.

2013 ended up being the only season since 2009 that BYU finished in the top 25 in total offense. The Cougars were 14th nationally producing 493.6 yards per game and 10th nationally in rushing with Taysom and Jamaal Williams emerging as two of the top rushers in college football. The only problem was that the Cougars were only 55th in scoring, scoring 30.2 points a contest.

The 2014 offense might be the best BYU has produced in the last decade. The Cougars scored 24-plus points in every game except once and that was in a loss to Utah State where Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending injury.

BYU averaged 37.1 points per game and was 14th nationally in scoring that season. By far the highest from a BYU team in the last 10 years. 

What helped BYU that season is that they adapted to their personnel at QB with Taysom in and then eventually senior Christian Stewart.

In Anae’s final season as OC in 2015, the Cougars had to adjust on the fly again after losing Taysom Hill for the year in the season-opener at Nebraska. BYU was long removed from the Go Fast, Go Hard approach and now turned to freshman Tanner Mangum at QB. With Mangum, BYU was 21st nationally in passing and 40th in scoring.

The Cougars had little to no running attack as it was 111th nationally making BYU a one-dimensional team. Which became difficult for Mangum and the BYU offense to put up points against quality Power Five defenses in Missouri and Utah.

For every 3rd & 8 halfback draw that drew outrage from BYU fans on social media, Anae’s offenses in his second run in Provo produced results that were the closest to the Cougars modern era golden years that came in Anae’s first stint.

Ty Detmer (2016-2017)

Ty Detmer returning as a coach at BYU was something Cougar fans had wanted for years. Detmer had talks with Bronco Mendenhall and the previous staff when there were job openings, but for one reason or another, it just never worked out.

Detmer, who was the head coach of a small Texas high school had never coached at the collegiate level, but he had a desire to coach in college if the situation was right.

BYU came calling with an offensive coordinator offer and he accepted in December of 2015. The announcement was made official on Christmas Eve of that year and some zealous Cougar fans dialed up some Christmas Carols to show their excitement.

Detmer said in an introductory press conference the following month that he laid in bed looking at the ceiling wondering if he did the right thing accepting the job. It was his first coaching stop at the collegiate level.

With Detmer in the fold, BYU was going to throw it back to a Pro-Style offense that Detmer had run for years in the NFL and during his career at BYU.

Installing a slower tempo Pro-Style offense for a quarterback like Taysom Hill felt like a square peg going into a round hole. And it was.

Despite having Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams back for another season, BYU’s offense in 2016 was average at best. The Cougars were 71st nationally in total offense averaging 399.1 yards per game and they were 62nd in points per game at 29.5.

That offense in 2016 might have been underwhelming in Detmer’s first season, but it would end up looking like the greatest offense in history compared to the 2017 offense.

After Taysom and Jamaal graduated, BYU was a young team in 2017, especially on offense. Youth paired with a lack of identity on offense, it was a recipe for disaster.

BYU’s offense in 2017 was the worst offensive team BYU had fielded since World War II. The Cougars were 118th in total offense and 123rd out of 129 teams in scoring. Averaging a measly 17.1 points per game.

Lowlights included not passing the 50-yard line against LSU and scoring only 17 points against the nation’s worst defense in East Carolina. Then, the straw that broke Detmer’s coaching career at BYU was a loss to UMass on Senior Day in Provo.

Nobody wanted a legend to go by the wayside, but the lack of experience and little to no points on the scoreboard left Sitake with the tough decision to make a change.

Jeff Grimes (2018-Present)

Grimes was hired away from LSU in hopes of bringing balance to BYU’s offense after a disastrous 2017 season. The highest-paid offensive line coach in the country turned down another lucrative offer from Ed Orgeron and the Bayou Bengals to get his first crack at being an offensive coordinator.

It was a big-time hire when you considered Grimes had two decades of coaching experience in college football, and some of that experience was at BYU. Grimes was the offensive line coach for Gary Crowton and later Bronco Mendenhall from 2004-2006. Former players of Grimes’ at BYU such as Jake Kuresa, Eddie Keele, Lance Reynolds Jr., and others were strong advocates to get Grimes back in the fold at BYU.

There’s no question BYU this year and last, have had far more explosive plays than the 2017 season. But the averages and national statistics are not anything that’s inspiring at the moment.

Through 18 games with Grimes at offensive coordinator (13 in 2018, 5 in 2019), BYU is averaging a subpar 368 yards of offense per game. 

In 2018, BYU had the 100th ranked total offense. Half of the season was with senior Tanner Mangum at quarterback and the other half was with true freshman Zach Wilson.

Not only did BYU make a quarterback change, they played a bunch of young newcomers, and on top of all that, they also changed their entire offense midway through the season. So it’s not shocking that the overall numbers last year were not high.

BYU’s second-half performance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Western Michigan propelled a lot of excitement for the Cougars’ offensive attack in 2019. Wilson tossed a perfect 18-for-18 and had 317 yards leading BYU to a dominant 49-18 bowl win over the Broncos.

This season, BYU was without Wilson during spring practices as he recovered from surgery on his shoulder. But once fall camp began in July, the sophomore quarterback was on point and making explosive plays happen through the air.

Through five games in 2019, Wilson was excellent averaging 274 yards per game passing and at times making plays with his feet when needed in the RPO-style offense Grimes has implemented in year two. Despite improved play from Wilson, BYU’s offensive numbers haven’t been anything to write home about once again.

BYU is currently averaging 22.2 points per game which is good for 106th nationally and the total yards are at 376 yards per game, good for 90th in the country.  The Cougars have played the seventh toughest schedule in the country according to Sagarin ratings, which has to be factored into these numbers. But, last week against Toledo was a setback.

The Rockets had given up 694 total yards of offense to Colorado State the week prior and the Rams put up 35 points. BYU scored only 21 points against one of the bottom 20 defenses nationally this season and it was in large part due to playcalling on third and shorts.

Now without Zach Wilson for the foreseeable future this season, Grimes and his offense have to make the proper adjustments to set up quarterback Jaren Hall for success so they can pull out a win or two in this next month of the season. Will they continue with the RPO game, we will see. Most of the offensive principles that are in place don’t have to change much transitioning to Hall.

Success on third downs and producing explosive plays have been areas Grimes wants to see progress. If BYU can improve in those areas, especially third and short, the Cougars will be in a position to start having some breakthroughs on the offensive side of the ball which have been few and far between over the past decade for previous BYU offensive coordinators.

What’s Wrong with the BYU Offense? Three-part series

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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