DICKSON: BYU coordinators starting to figure things out

November 11, 2018 GMT

There are times when I feel really bad for BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.

He’s taken a beating on social media this season, and the beginning of BYU’s 35-16 win against UMass didn’t help matters.

He understands it comes with the territory. He’s been coaching college football for 25 years. He’s well compensated for coaching a game. But every couch coordinator or fan sitting in his recliner thinks they could call a better game, right?

Here’s the problem: The inconsistent execution of Grimes’ players makes it very difficult to choose a play or a series of plays that will sustain a drive. He doesn’t call a play because he thinks it will fail. He calls it because it’s supposed to work.

But whether it’s a drop, a missed block, the wrong route or a bad throw, BYU is often behind the sticks again.

A few weeks ago after another loss, Grimes talked about how the offensive line was losing one-on-one battles in both the run game and the pass game. It’s no wonder the offense was stuck in neutral.

After such a difficult start at UMass, Grimes and his offensive staff finally came up with a semblance of a run game and that made a big difference. Not able to get yards up the middle, the Cougars started going off tackle and on the edge. The result was 221 rushing yards and 35 straight points.

That’s more like it.

The offensive line was providing holes and protecting freshman quarterback Zach Wilson and all was right in Cougarland for a change.

BYU needs to start better, but you can blame some of that on the early East Coast start and on the chilly, windy weather. But in 15 away games under Kalani Sitake, BYU has never had a first-quarter lead.

It’s just a symptom of an overall larger problem of a team that sometimes takes a while to get going. According to defensive back Michael Shelton, the home crowd at LaVell Edwards Stadium is kind of a downer. The Cougars responded better to adversity in a mostly deserted Gillette Stadium. It’s cool to play in an NFL venue, but not cool that the crowd was mainly comprised of a dozen local marching bands bused in for a halftime performance.

For some reason, the offense finally found its groove nearly 2,400 miles from Provo.

On his weekly television coach’s show, Sitake dared his staff to be aggressive and imaginative without any repercussions. In other words, he’d back whatever they wanted to do. I think the weather might have had something to do with how conservative Grimes called things early, but once the run game got going other plays became available.

This week, Sitake said he just wants to win. Style points may not be necessary but it doesn’t hurt to be a little more explosive on offense and more aggressive on the defensive side. Late in the second half, my wife turned to me and said, “It’s a good thing there’s four quarters,” and she’s right. Grimes made some adjustments, was patient and found a way to counter the run blitzes of the UMass defense.

Seeing receivers Neal Pau’u, Talon Shumway and Aleva Hifo make some plays in the second half was encouraging. I’m sure the weather made throwing the ball an adventure and the receivers made Wilson look good on several challenging throws.

The BYU defense and coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki appear to be hitting their stride, too. The past three games the Cougars have allowed 14.6 points and an average of 272 yards per game. A little better pass rush and an emerging young secondary — along with some blitzing — have helped the defense establish a good identity. This same UMass team put up 62 points and 777 yards of offense last week.

With a 5-5 record, the Cougars can make themselves bowl eligible with a win next week at home against New Mexico State. I’m afraid the atmosphere will be less than electric for senior night. An 8:15 p.m. game in the Mountain time zone in November isn’t very appealing in the best of circumstances. The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and low-40s for kickoff next Saturday.

Whether the fans come out or not, BYU has something to play for.