BYU Offense About Ready to Bust Loose

After all the head-scratching, head-thumping, kicking-the-family-dog and all the frustration that BYU's lack of offensive production has wrought over the past couple of seasons, things are finally looking up.

There is definitely a new feeling surrounding the Cougar offense as they head into tonight's matchup against UNLV. After two consecutive productive displays, Gary Crowton's offense seems to be at a breakout point with the likely result of putting smiles back on the faces of the Cougar faithful.

"We feel like we're working better to get better daily. We have to maintain that daily focus and not look too far ahead. We feel like we're coming together well offensively. Hopefully we'll continue to get better offensively on all facets. The players are starting to get more comfortable from game to game which helps us to progress," Crowton said.

Receiver Antwaun Harris added, "Oh yeah, we're definitely starting to click better. Things are coming together and I feel that we're ready to really get going on offense."

Running back teammate Curtis Brown concurred, "I feel that we've steadily been able to get better with every week. We're just trying to keep our focus and realize that we're not where we want to be yet as an offensive unit. But we'll get there eventually as we continue to progress and take it one week at a time. But yeah, I feel that we're definitely improving on offense and I feel that we'll continue doing so."

Cameron Jensen, the starting middle linebacker, added, "Yeah, the offense is getting better. It's not a surprise to us who go against them in practice. I could see they had a lot of potential before the season and I can see them getting better with each practice. It's so great to see them do well because it helps us as a defensive unit. It helps us get more breathers and maybe takes a little pressure off us. I know those guys on offense work hard and I know they'll continue to progress. Hopefully we can match them as a defensive unit and steadily progress with every week."

Making the case for improved offensive production is simple upon evaluation of the different parts of the offense and what they've been able to accomplish over the past few games. While Boise State and Colorado State aren't the most stellar of defensive tests, they aren't shabby either. Conversely, while BYU's offense hasn't exactly rolled over opponents yet, they've shown success in different facets of their game.

Some compelling evidence so far this season:

1. Wide receiver production: While it would seem obvious to start with quarterback continuity, the No. 1 reason for BYU's improved offensive outlook is the coaching staff's ability to develop the outside receiving game as a major threat. Last season saw little production downfield as the deep threat was rendered non-existent for the most part – even with speedster Rod Wilkerson.

"One of our focuses has been our deep ball," Crowton continued. "When you look over the past two years we had no deep ball receptions. At the start of the season we did pretty good, but toward the end of the season they (opposing defenses) would just crowd the line and jam us on the outside. Then we couldn't get off the line of scrimmage and the running game wouldn't work because they'd put seven in the box. So those are some things we've worked to correct," he said.

You have only to watch tape of the Boise State game to see the deep ball has returned in the person of Todd Watkins. Colorado State obviously looked at the Boise State game film and simply refused to put any of their safeties in the box nor their linebackers closer than three yards off the line of scrimmage on the majority of downs. Despite relatively great production running the football, Colorado State refused to make drastic adjustments to stop the run because of the deep threat that reared its glorious head against Boise State.

But BYU has a potent powerful one-two punch at wideout with Watkins and true freshman Austin Collie, who plays more like a seasoned veteran with his excellent route running and consistent pass receptions in heavy traffic.

"A couple of the deep throws to Austin Collie were open because the safety leaned toward Todd Watkins and he was able to outrun the safety and was open."

Having two threats on the opposite edges goes a long way in keeping a defense honest and severely limits what they can throw at you defensively. Safeties now have to stay home more than they otherwise would because these two outside receivers can beat anyone on any given down.

While Watkins and Collie have received most of the press, another true freshman, Antwaun Harris, feels he's ready to join the party and has shown steady improvement with every game. "I feel like I'm getting more involved," Harris said. "I'm catching some balls underneath, but man, I want to go deep and get some balls downfield some more. I know that I'm capable of beating guys downfield. Hopefully I'll get my chance. I just want to help wherever I can, but it would be nice to get the ball deep," he said.

Harris has shown adeptness with veterans Jason Kukahiko and Rod Wilkerson in catching passes underneath the coverages that have forced defenses to soften up because of the Watkins' and Collie's effectiveness downfield. "The next thing we've done is to work on a short passing game where we can get a lot of guys out and move the chains. It really helps in the third-down situations."

2. The development and play of John Beck: With excellent options downfield, the offense still needs someone who can get them the ball effectively and consistently. Beck's talents have never been a question. He possesses the arm strength and mobility that has many Cougar fans drooling over his untapped potential.

Crowton commented, "John is gaining a much better feel of what teams are doing defensively. John told me after the Colorado State game that he was spending too much time trying to figure out what they were doing. As the game went on, he could just feel what they were doing and didn't have to spend as much time, but he could get through his progressions faster."

One of the most noticeable improvements in Beck's game is his ability to make hot reads and throw underneath in the flat to beat blitzes. "I just feel he'll continue to progress," Crowton said. "The more he plays, the more comfortable he will get and I can see that happening. His improvement may not come with leaps and bounds, but I feel he'll continue to improve little by little."

Quarterback continuity has helped dramatically to upgrade the offense as a whole. "We have confidence in all of our quarterbacks, but it is very nice to have John (Beck) healthy and be able to play three complete games in a row. I feel it helps us be more consistent," according to Curtis Brown.

After a very mediocre half of play against Colorado State, Beck settled down noticeably. He was more patient in the pocket and seemed to gain a better understanding of who would be open and when they would be open based on what Colorado State was doing defensively.

3. The threat of a running attack: The biggest reason for BYU's revitalized ground production against Colorado State was the deep threat of Watkins and Collie, preventing CSU from stacking the box to guard against the run. "It's great having guys like Todd (Watkins) who can beat a defense downfield consistently. It's definitely helped open the running game for us. But we can't rest on that. We need to keep a straight-ahead mentality. We need to be aggressive in our style and in our mentality," Brown said.

Brown said that he and Naufahu Tahi grew sick and tired watching their performance in the film room and wanted to correct the things they saw they were lacking in. "I could just see that we weren't being nearly as aggressive as we needed to be. We were just sort of picking our way instead of just going forward. We could see we needed to be more decisive and a lot more aggressive. I feel that me and Fahu were that way a little more against Colorado State, but we need to be even more aggressive this week against UNLV."

While linebackers and safeties are moving steadily back to account for BYU's deep threat, the offensive line and running backs still need to prove they can move forward consistently and efficiently to keep opposing defenses on their toes – something the Cougars showed they are more than capable of doing against Colorado State.

"We moved the ball effectively on the ground, which is very important," Crowton remarked. "We need to be effective in all facets offensively and it will help open things up for us. We feel that we ran the ball very well and hopefully that will continue."

Meanwhile, previously disenchanted fans are hopping back onto the Cougar bandwagon. BYU's offense is showing signs of breaking out. Could it happen this week against UNLV or do we need to be a little more patient? Regardless, Crowton feels it as well, "I feel that we're coming together. We could have a big game here soon. I'm not sure if it will be this week against UNLV or when, but I really like where we're going offensively and the progress we're making."

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