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BYU football: Offense struggling to finish against top competition

Published November 25, 2013 9:29 am

BYU football • Loss at Notre Dame exemplifies team's struggles this season.
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Provo • The image pretty much said it all on Saturday afternoon in the bowels of historic Notre Dame Stadium after the BYU Cougars were manhandled by the tougher Irish 23-13 in their latest failed quest to stamp a meaningful road win on their 2013 resume.

Sporting a big ol' goose egg on his forehead and still shivering in a hallway, defensive tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna acknowledged that the Cougars probably shouldn't still be making "the little mistakes" after having played 11 games.

"Guys are kind of hurting, and the weather [was brutal], and things like that," Manumaleuna said. "But there really shouldn't be an excuse to us missing all those assignments and gaps. But it happened, and it was a tough game."

It wasn't just the defense that fell short, however. In all four of BYU's losses, the Cougars' offense failed to deliver, especially in the red zone, and has averaged 14.7 points per game. They've averaged 41.2 points in their seven wins.

Notre Dame T-shirts billed it as Independents' Day, but that was before the coldest game played in South Bend since ND beat Navy 38-0 in 1991. Temperatures were in the 20s, but 20 mph winds made it feel like 7 degrees. Notre Dame handled the conditions better.

It also showed that the Cougars' defense can keep the points in control when they face BCS conference-type opponents such Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Utah, but the offense can't generate enough points to win the game.

"Ultimately, what wins or loses games is not rushing yards," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "It is points. And [giving up] 23, you believe you have a great chance to win the game if you're around 21, 22, 23 points [allowed]. And that's where it was."

To his credit, offensive coordinator Robert Anae has met with reporters immediately after all four of BYU's losses, but not once after a win this season.

"From an offensive perspective, we did not live up to what we came here to do," Anae said after three surges into scoring territory produced just two field goals and a blocked field goal in the second half. "… You would like to have a lot of things back in a game like that, but I do believe … we have the talent on our team to be successful in a game like this. We would like to see a better outcome. But it did not turn that way for us."

BYU has scored touchdowns on only 47 percent of its drives into the red zone, which ranks 116th among 123 major-college football teams in the country.

So what's the problem?

One theory is that Anae's zone-read offense is good between the 20s, but not built to pick up tough rushing yards when the defense's safeties are closer to the line of scrimmage. And there was some curious play-calling in the red zone, including a running play on third-and-6.

"We have to be better in certain situations running the football," Anae said. "And we have to be better throwing, catching and protecting."

Up next for the Cougars (7-4) is another team that's had an extra week to prepare for them. While the Cougars were getting beat up by the Irish, Nevada was idle, having defeated San Jose State 38-16 in Reno on Nov. 16 in its last game.

"I don't really know much about them, but I know they have had success in the past," BYU safety Craig Bills said. "Every week we just got to look at it and just go one at a time. I know we did with Idaho State, Wisconsin and now we just need to turn our focus to Nevada. We are expecting them to be a good team and play us hard."

drew@sltrib.comTwitter: @drewjay —

BYU at Nevada

P Saturday, 1 p.m. MST

TV • CBS Sports College




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