Leaving LaVell Edwards Stadium last night after the game was like leaving a ghost town. I missed bumper-to-bumper traffic that usually takes 20-plus minutes just to leave the stadium parking lot. Instead, my family and I encountered no traffic and left as if it was just any other day of the week. If things keep up at this rate, I fear any Cougar football game will just become "another day of the week in Provo." It's not fun.
What happened? What has gone wrong this season? Indeed, the team is young and inexperienced, as Crowton has maintained from the outset. Reporters could just as well have taken post-game quotes from the Stanford game and inserted them in stories after last night's debacle.
"We're getting better. We're close. We're right there. We're improving," Crowton says. Actually, they're getting worse. Boise State is a good football team that may crack the top 25 teams this week, but they're certainly not a top 20 team. Unfortunately, teams of this caliber are humiliating BYU at LES these days.
From what I have gathered, the downward slide started with the Stanford game. It was the first game BYU had no business losing. Crowton revealed himself in unspectacular fashion. In that game and every other game since, Crowton has been unwilling to accept the offensive strengths and weaknesses of his team and call the game accordingly.
BYU came into the season with some very inexperienced linemen, a minimally experienced quarterback, below average wide receivers, and a stable of the most talented running backs ever assembled in Provo. So what has Crowton done with that?
You could argue he did what he should have until the devastating injury to Matt Berry during the New Mexico game. After that, he stubbornly insisted on dropping true freshman quarterback John Beck repeatedly in five step drops, ignoring any semblance of an effective running attack.
Crowton's refusal to let the running game work for him was never more apparent than early in last night's game when Marcus Whalen gained nine yards on a first down. Following that, his offensive brain trust of Robbie Bosco, Todd Bradford and Crowton chose to throw the ball on second and third down. The second pass resulted in an interception.
In Crowton's first season, his offensive success came in large part because he effectively utilized the offensive strengths he had in Brandon Doman and Luke Staley. Never before had he run the option or depended so much in a running back as he did in 2001 – and it paid big dividends.
This is not to say that BYU's current stable of running backs can mount a running attack as successful as Staley. But Crowton has an excellent defense that can win football games, but he is not letting them win games for him. Instead, he, Bosco and Bradford was allowing the offense to repeatedly lose rather than win these games.
Crowton showed his cards early, asserting he did not want to win like New Mexico does with anemic offenses and dominating defenses. Crowton refuses to win that way.
BYU needs to put their quarterback under center, line up two running backs in the backfield and go. Run the ball on first and second down and hope for the best. That is their strength offensively. Ironically, we saw this during the second half with Mortensen at the helm and it worked, by and large. The dumbed down offense relying primarily on a straight-ahead running attack worked.
Boise State even put eight men in the box on most downs, but Crowton allowed the running game to gain a rhythm that all good running attacks develop and thrive on. Still, BYU was seen leaving the game with a 60/30 pass-run ratio with a noticeably gimpy quarterback, a quarterback that lasted two series and a third-stringer. In a word, ridiculous.
On the bright side, Taufui Vakapuna showed why so much hype was heaped upon him in preseason. After Whalen patty-caked two blocks that went for a sack and a hurry respectively, Vakapuna took the team and gave the offense some much needed life. Crowton needs to rotate Brathwaite and Vakapuna in the final two games of the year and run them in at least 60% of the offensive plays.
The offensive line for the first time this year was not the problem. They played an adequate game for the most part. Berry's gimpy hand did the offense in, coupled with Crowton's refusal to let the defense win the game or his refusal to even attempt a successful running attack until the game was out of reach.
BYU's defense did very well keeping Ryan Dinwiddie and Boise State's wide-open offense in check for the most part. Dinwiddie had a very mediocre game and looked completely lost during stretches in the second and third quarter. Dinwiddie is a good quarterback and shined when he had to, especially late in the fourth quarter against many of BYU's second and third-stringers.
Why Boise State's coach had his quarterback throwing 30-yard post corners with a 30-point lead late in the fourth quarter is anyone's guess. I won't feel sorry for him if his star quarterback gets hurt late in the game in one of these blowouts. Classless? You bet it was.
Would anyone be willing to go back and count how many of Crowton's little wide receiver screens have gone for five-plus yards? This play doesn't work, yet Crowton goes back to it time and again hoping for the best. If I don't see this play again this year, that will be a good thing. Where have the flare passes to the running backs gone? Where are the running back screens?
On defense, we saw the return of Levi Madarieta at outside linebacker. We also saw his propensity to take horrible angles while filling gaps on off-tackle runs and totally whiffing trying to make an open field tackle. Madarieta is very good in pass coverage, but his run support is flat out awful. Bronco Mendenhall, unlike some offensive coaches, promptly benched Madarieta in favor of Nixon and Madarieta saw precious few reps in the second half.
The biggest chink in BYU's defense has been over-the-top safety help in post-corner and post patterns down the field. This is, of course, due in part to Mendenhall's aggressive use of his safeties, but Dinwiddie burned the defense time and again with this as the safety help was late coming on many a passing play. In summary, BYU is a very bad football team right now because of a head coach who refuses to play according to his team's strengths and weaknesses. The talent is not lacking and the inexperience excuse was justified the first few games of the year. It's not the players. Its how they're being asked to play and how they're being prepared by their coaches.
I like Gary Crowton. I think he has good football sense and knows how to coach certain things effectively. However, he continues to try to out-think the opposition instead of leading with his team's strengths.
The 2004 BYU Cougars will be stacked with talent. If Nathan Soelberg, possibly Brandon Heaney, and the other junior college cornerbacks coming in next year deliver, BYU will have one of the most dominating defenses in the country.
Also, Jake Kuresa and Ofa Mohetau have indicated they will play next year and postpone LDS mission plans. Joining them on the offensive line will be Scott Young, Eddie Keele, Gary McGiven and likely Taitusi Lutui, possibly the best offensive lineman in the JC ranks. The offensive line should be more than adequate next season. Every running back returns as do all the wide receivers except Toby Christensen. Hopefully, Crowton will land some urgently needed commitments from top flight JC receivers as well. All quarterbacks return along with excellent tight ends Daniel Coats, Justin Jory and Philip Niu.
Where am I going with this? The season is over. With a much-needed bye week, BYU will hopefully regroup and perform well to finish out against two more solid teams in Notre Dame and Utah. I would not call for Crowton's head (job) regardless of what happens during the last two games of the year.
However, if Gary Crowton does not win an outright MWC title next season with what he has coming back, it will be time for him to go. No excuses.
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