BYU football: Passing attack still stalling

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BYU quarterback Taysom Hill scans downfield against Cincinnati. Hill threw for just 130 yards against the Bearcats. (BYU Photo)
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill scans downfield against Cincinnati. Hill threw 130 yards against the Bearcats. (BYU Photo)

BYU football went to Cincinnati and defeated the Bearcats 20-3. The win snapped Cincinnati’s streak of 30 straight non-conference home victories and improved the Cougars’ record to 5-4.

All should be well in the world of BYU football.

And despite head coach Kalani Sitake being “really happy” about the “overall team win,” something still feels lacking.

Maybe it’s the nagging feeling of knowing an extra play here or there could’ve meant the Cougars would be 9-0. After all, their four losses have come by a combined eight points.

Maybe it’s knowing BYU’s passing attack under new coordinator Ty Detmer continues to stall.

The Cougars’ early-season offensive troubles were well documented. It took the team nearly a month to finally break the 20-point plateau, finally doing so in a 35-32 loss to West Virginia.

BYU currently averages 27.1 points per game, a total ranking behind New Mexico, Troy, Air Force, Old Dominion and Utah among many others. Removing the 55-point scoring outburst against Toledo — a number that now seems aberration — drops the average to a mediocre 21.5 points per game. This average would rank the Cougars in the No. 104 spot out of 128 Division I teams in points per game.

The passing attack is particularly bad.

The Cougars are ranked No. 97 in passing yards per game (194) after averaging 287 per game last season.

BYU is ranked No. 58 in the nation with an average of 33.2 passing attempts per game. Last season the Cougars averaged 39.8.

The Cougars are also No. 58 in completions per game, with 19.2.

So an average game is 19-of-33 passing for 194 yards.

But perhaps the most troubling number for BYU’s offense is passing yards per attempt, where the Cougars rank No. 119 in the nation with a paltry 5.8 yards.

One would imagine those numbers aren’t what Detmer and the Cougars were aiming for this season.

Things were no better against the Bearcats. Taysom Hill completed 15-of-25 passes for 130 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass and he was intercepted once.

Sitake summed it up well after the win in Cincinnati.

“The offense was a little bit slow,” he said.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, slow offense has become the trend of the 2016 campaign.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the shift from a spread offense to a pro-style set. Robert Anae’s “go fast, go hard” offense had largely run its course in Provo, but an offense this anemic was hardly what anyone had imagined.

Things start to look even worse when considering how adept the BYU defense has been at forcing turnovers.

The Cougars are averaging 2.4 takeaways per game, good for the No. 7 spot in the nation. But the offense has struggled to make teams pay. Against Boise State the Cougars forced five turnovers, but the offense scored just 13 points.

Those numbers are bleak, but the passing attack still has time to figure things out before the team goes to the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 21.

The Cougars have three-straight home games to close their season and will be favored to win all of them.

BYU will first host Southern Utah on Nov. 12, followed by UMass on Nov. 19 and Utah State on Nov. 26.

With a lackluster schedule remaining, the team is stressing the importance of staying focused.

“We’re competitors. No one wants to lose. We want to win. We love BYU, we love the fans and we love each other,” said junior offensive lineman Tuni Kanuch. “We’ve worked too hard all year to give up just because we lost a couple of games. They were really close games, so we know we can play ball. We play a lot of good teams. We have one of the hardest schedules I’ve ever seen. I’m proud of my team.”

After BYU’s trio of home games, it appears the Cougars will likely face either Wyoming or San Diego State in the postseason. The Cowboys are allowing nearly 320 passing yards per game, while the Aztecs are allowing just 202.

While many fans have been clamoring for a game with SDSU and the nation’s leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey, the more favorable matchup appears to be the one with Wyoming. The Cowboys’ defense has been suspect all season and they are allowing nearly 31 points per contest, compared to SDSU’s 17 points per game.

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