Crowton's Conundrum Revisited

<B>COMMENTARY</B> <BR> BYU had a real chance to establish itself in the MWC with a second consecutive win in as many weeks. It proved to be too-tall an order for a team that seems close to finding itself. An epidemic of fumbling combined and a lack of focus on what the Rebel defense gave up finally sank Cougar hopes of emerging 2-0 in conference play.

There have been times this season when BYU has played outstanding football. Last Friday night's game revealed this Cougar squad has a ways to go before taking back the mantle of previous BYU championship teams.

Crowton remains the ultimate optimist. He told reporters his top quarterback, John Beck, will learn from his mistakes by watching the game film. That maybe the case, but Beck's poise and performance at Boise State and Colorado State seemed actually superior to the aerial attack fest he orchestrated against the Rebels.

At least Beck found his tight ends that have been effectively missing since the start of the season. It was nice to see Daniel Coats and freshman Dennis Pitta getting some attention. Of course, anytime a quarterback passes for 68 times in a game, everyone downfield is likely to get some attention. The big question is if this was a good thing.

Coach Crowton alluded to Beck audibling out of 10-15 rushing plays during the game. It would be interesting to know how many passing plays Beck opted out of to call running plays instead?

Why? The answer is simple. A good quarterback will audible any time he recognizes the called play will not work against a particular defensive alignment. Of the 96 plays called, only 20 were given to BYU running backs.

Beck rushed eight rushes himself, but some of those were busted plays where he was forced into action.

The most positive and disappointing statistic was Curtis Brown's eight runs for 102 yards or an astounding 12.7 yards-per-carry. Why wasn't he used more? OK, about half his yards were on two plays, but he still ran 6.5 yards-per-carry on the other six plays. Fifteen more carries at that average would have put Brown over 200 yards and would certainly have been more productive than Beck's ineffective throwing game –68 passes for a 5.26 yards-per-catch average.

I hope Beck learns the prudence of sticking with the running game when it's working and stop passing too much when he's consistently overthrowing his receivers. If not, Crowton needs to hammer that point across to his young and inexperienced quarterback.

Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes had a major task to mould a cohesive unit from a slew of players converted from defensive positions. It hasn't been easy, but they are improving. The offensive line has shown it can run block well enough to provide both Brown and Naufahi Tahi with decent holes to run through. Let's hope Beck figure this out in time to help lead the Cougars to a winning season.

John Beck, however, does not bear sole responsibility for the disparity in offensive play calling. One has to wonder if Crowton himself is the man behind the mania. Beck is a sophomore and, although he has shown great promise, he has a ways to go before he can blow off plays called by coaches, a la Jim McMahon.

With his recent recovery from a Grade 2 separation, it seems strange that Beck would put himself in a situation where he would throw so many times. I would think a cerebral signal caller like Beck would recognize how often the Rebel defense gave up yardage underneath to deep cover receivers Todd Watkins or Austin Collie -- and spare his arm some wear and tear.

Given Crowton's past tendencies, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize he prefers to air it out. Indeed, the next few games will confirm if Crowton's comments were right on or if it was pressure-induced hyperbole given the way BYU let this game literally get out of their hands.

Balance in the offense or taking what the defense gives you would be palatable if it weren't for the foul smell of fumblitis reeking from the field in Provo last Friday. Crowton stated after the game "…we need to work on that…" when asked about the excessive and inexcusable fumbling during the game. He explained the UNLV players were coming from behind and poking the ball out of his carriers' hands.

OK, I can deal with that, but the team and coaches should have adjusted to that after one or two fumbles. They didn't. History is a more revealing story-teller. In the four times BYU has played UNLV, they have fumbled the ball 20 times against UNLV, recovering only eight of them. That is an average of five fumbles and two recoveries per game. Most other teams do not seem to have as much trouble protecting the ball.

It is the coach's responsibility to prepare the team for their scheduled competition. Out of conference schedules are difficult because most teams have little to no experience with opponents they generally play against. The conference schedule is equally or even tougher since competing teams understand their opponents' tendencies, habits and systems because of prior experience familiarity.

How much was Gary Crowton's coaching credibility weakened because his players were not prepared for UNLV's ball stripping techniques? In 2001, UNLV caused six fumbles, four in 2002 and another four fumbles in 2003.

I don't know how much of the last week's practice was devoted to prepping the players to deal with UNLV's effective ball stripping. The game statistics indicate there was a lack of preparation by coaches or player. Protecting the ball is one of the first skills taught in football. College players have gone through countless exercises focusing on either stripping the ball or protecting it.

What does it say about the program when the head coach is telling the media "the team" needs to work on things that should have been apparent? While we may give Crowton a pass on the disparity of passing vs. running in Friday's game because of his quarterback's decision-making, it is a bit much to expect that the Cougar coaching staff was duped for four consecutive years in not taking UNLV's ball-stripping capabilities seriously.

Reviewing BYU's fumble statistics over the same four-year period against other MWC teams only serves to curdle my tongue:

Every remaining game this year is of make-or-break proportions for Gary Crowton – unless the higher-ups at BYU have already made a decision to announce a forthcoming change.

At the very least, Crowton can ill afford to further have his coaching abilities or his team viewed like they were in the aftermath of the Rebels' game last Friday.

It is time for Crowton to grit his teeth and bare his claws or the loud barking fans out for his hide might succeed in chasing this true blue Cougar out of town.

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