Cougars Heading in the Right Direction

The BYU cougars have been steadily progressing over the last three games. Gary Crowton discusses the areas of improvement in the Cougar program that have contributed to a three game BYU win streak. Crowton also previews Saturday's showdown with New Mexico.

As BYU enters this weekend's match-up with New Mexico in which a win would make them bowl eligible, they appear to be hitting on all cylinders. If you read the boards across Cougarland following the Cougar's 49-16 thrashing of San Diego State things seemed okay in Cougarville. Cougarfans are faced with allegations of a different sort this week. On several internet forums, BYU detractors are accusing the Cougars of running up the score. For Cougar faithful, this criticism is a welcomed return to debates of glory days past..

Said Head Coach Gary Crowton: "We're just trying to work on things on a daily basis. We're making strides. I felt like the pass game came along a little bit faster than the run game, but now the run game is coming on. It gives us the opportunity to play-action pass more effectively and just do more offensively. We're making progress."

While the offense has seen steady improvement, they will see their stiffest tests since USC came to town when the Cougars go up against a stout New Mexico Lobo defense this Saturday morning. "This week it will be a very good defense we're going against in New Mexico," said Crowton. "They're the number one defense in our conference in conference games and we're the number two offense in conference games. So as I'm looking at that I believe it will be a real battle."

Another aspect of this year's team that has translated into better production offensively has been the upgrade in team speed. San Diego State coach Tom Craft readily acknowledged the vast improvement in team speed. Craft singled out the speed on the outside where receivers Todd Watkins and Austin Collie have proved they can beat a defense on any given play.

Said Crowton: "The team speed is there. It's something we looked to upgrade during the off-season and I feel we did well at doing that. We had some speed last year in Chris Hale and Rod Wilkerson, but felt like we needed to add to that. The team speed is there. As we develop that speed I feel that we can also work in getting bigger and more physical in the skill positions. Todd Watkins isn't very big right now, but I feel that with time he can become bigger and continue to improve and develop there."

Perhaps the biggest factor in the offense's success has been the improvement in the offensive line. While continuing to give quarterback John Beck plenty of time in the pocket, the line is now blowing opposing front sevens off of the line and out of the box when running the football. "We're playing mostly with sophomore players and they were all freshmen last year," said Crowton. "So they're steadily getting better and growing. We did it in a way so that we wouldn't overwhelm them and have them peak at the right time, so we could do better in conference and I think we're seeing that."

Another aspect that has helped the overall blocking and thereby the greater offensive output, is the reliance on a double tight end formation which is something Crowton has not been able to do much since the 2001 season. "It's just been a good match-up with some of the teams we've faced and we'll use it according to the match-up with the defense," said Crowton. "We used it a lot against Wyoming and again against San Diego State."

So what has been the biggest difference in offensive production from last year to this year? Crowton states that it starts with boys up front. "I think it starts with the offensive line" posited the coach. "I think that the consistency in the offensive line is where it all starts. Second is the consistency with the quarterback. Having him able to develop while staying on the field and not getting beat up. It also definitely helps having the two guys on the outside with speed. Just the combination of those things have been good. The running game has also really improved overall. Curtis Brown is our main guy, but Fahu Tahi is playing real well. I just feel it's a combination of all things clicking and working together and hopefully we can improve with that."

BYU faces two unique challenges this Saturday going against New Mexico. One being the early start time at 10am. "I don't think I've ever had to coach a game that early at home," said Crowton. "We'll just have to move everything up. We'll probably have a team meeting at 6:30am and then eat breakfast at 7. Everything will be the same, but we'll just be doing everything a bit earlier."

The other daunting challenge comes with playing New Mexico after a bye week. Coach Crowton is well aware of Rocky Long's 7-0 record following bye weeks and of the benefits it provides a team. "You can hope that they'll be rusty, but I'm sure that they won't be," said Crowton. "It's just another challenge that we'll have to meet."

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