The offense is terrible.
I know, it's a weird week to pick on the offense when they scored 24 points and gained 386 yards, which is a lot better than they did against Utah or Boise State. But I'm going to pile on anyway.
There's no doubt that the BYU defense played poorly, especially against deep passes. But the offense did not do its part either, and don't get fooled into thinking it did. As Brett already pointed out, Riley Nelson threw three interceptions, and fumbled the ball twice (though the ball was attracted to his magic grittiness and remained with BYU). Sure, the last interception shouldn't be counted against him in a desperation mode, but the first two should, and he had probably another half dozen ill-advised passes.
His defenders might say that BYU gained 386 yards against a pretty good defense. But total yards are deceiving. In 84 offensive plays, the Cougars only averaged 4.6 yards per play. Let me put that in context: it's terrible, even against a good D. That's about what Utah's horrible offense has averaged this season.
For the season, BYU is averaging 5.17 yards per play, which is 95th in the country, behind offensive luminaries like UAB and Florida International. The last good BYU offense was in 2009 when the Max Hall-led Cougars averaged 6.24 yards per play, which was good for 17th in the nation. Since then BYU has ranked 90th and 64th in that category, and now 95th this season.
That number will improve after the Notre Dame game. BYU's schedule gets really easy after this pair of top ten opponents. The Cougars are likely to finish in the top 70 (la-di-freakin'-da!) just due to the fact that whoever QBs the Cougars in the season's final four games is likely to rack up some nice offensive numbers against some of the worst teams in college football.
Since 2010 (which is, of course, before Brandon Doman took over as offensive coordinator), the offense has not been good. And since Doman took over the offense has been bad, especially against good competition. In the past two seasons, BYU has played six top 40 opponents (according to the Sagarin rankings). BYU is 1-5 in those six games, and the offense is averaging 4.37 yards per play in those contests; that's Hawai'i and UMass territory offensively.
With a unit that is struggling like this one, there are three possibilities: scheme and coaching; personnel; or a combination of both. Unfortunately I think BYU is in that third category, which means there's likely no easy fix.
Let's start with personnel. The QB play has been poor the past three seasons, with an overwhelmed Jake Heaps and a limited Nelson getting most of the snaps. The skill positions lack depth, though Cody Hoffman and Jamaal Williams are game-changers. And then there's the offensive line.
The line looked poor against Oregon State, as Williams was getting hit on most runs before or just as he hit the line of scrimmage. The rest of the running backs behind Williams are pretty mediocre, but a run game can survive with mediocre backs. What it can't survive with is no holes. And if they were a good pass-protection unit, maybe that's survivable, but they've struggled there as well.
As far as scheme goes, what else can I say? Just when you thought Doman had removed the short field option from the playbook, he calls three of those on Saturday. Yes, the shovel pass option was a nice twist, but the offense lacks identity and creativity. When you don't have superior personnel (which BYU doesn't), then you need a superior scheme, or at least a good one. Doman is a JV offensive coordinator learning the ropes in a year where an average offense has BYU at 7-1 and ranked heading into South Bend with a chance at glory. Instead the Cougars are just trying not to get embarrassed by one of the nation's top teams.
How do you fix it? Quite frankly, the easiest way is to clear house and start with a new offensive coaching staff after the season. I see no evidence, at least statistically, that the offense in on an improvement trajectory. And while going into 2013 and the toughest schedule in school history with a completely new offensive staff may seem daunting, I don't see what BYU has to lose. The offense is terrible right now, and if something doesn't materially change , then it's going to be similarly bad next year, even if Taysom Hill is a much better QB than Heaps or Nelson.
I loved Doman as a player. I was supportive of him being hired as the OC. But we've got a pretty decent sample now, and the experiment has failed. It's time to move on.