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BYU looks for rebound from dismal offense

Joe Hettler | Thursday, September 2, 2004

Brigham Young’s major weakness in 2003 appears to be another problem in 2004.The Cougars, who averaged just 16 points and barely over 300 yards per game a season ago, enter 2004 with hopes that their offense emerges as a help, not a hindrance. Last season, BYU went a dismal 4-8 and were shutout for the first time since 1975.”We’re trying to get everybody ready offensively,” BYU head coach Gary Crowton said. “We were not happy with the production of what we did last year. We really looked at it, we have worked hard on it and we have a little more experience at the quarterback spot this year. We recruited specifically for certain positions to help us in our skill spots and we are just going to be ready to go.”Earlier this week, Crowton – who is 3-0 in season openers at BYU – named John Beck the starting quarterback but said backup Matt Berry could see playing time. As a true freshman last season, Beck threw for 864 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions. Berry missed four games with a hand injury but still managed to rack up 1,445 passing yards, 14 interceptions and seven touchdowns.The Cougars tend to throw the ball more, but Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said stopping BYU’s running attack will be one of the keys for the Irish defense.”We cannot allow them to have what I call a two-way go, when they have got their running game and their passing game going full speed,” Willingham said. “We know and recognize that over the years that their preference has been to throw the football. But at the same time, if we let them have a run game, then they become that kind of double-edged sword; that you can’t stop it no matter what you’re doing.”The Cougars, who lost 16 players from last year’s team, have zero of their top three rushers from the 2003 team returning. Naufahu Tahi had 77 yards on 34 carries as a junior last season and will be one of several backs competing for the starting tailback job.Despite the lack of an established rusher, Crowton feels comfortable with the offense BYU will pit against Notre Dame this weekend.”Now we have some playmakers and I am curious how they are going to do on game day,” he said. “Some of them are freshman and some are junior-college transfers to go along with the guys we had last year. My feeling is we have a little bit more depth on offense.”On defense, BYU has several outstanding senior playmakers, including safety Aaron Francisco and defensive end/linebacker Brady Poppinga. Francisco has been named to the Thorpe Award “watch list” which goes to the country’s best defensive back and Poppinga is on the Bronko Nagurski “watch list” for the nation’s top defensive player. Willingham said the having sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn play as a freshman should benefit him against BYU defense.”The biggest difference is the word experience,” Willingham said. “Once you’ve done it, you seem to have a larger base of knowledge, a larger base of confidence, and that’s where Brady is.”Quinn and his teammates will be facing a BYU team that feels confident about themselves, according to Crowton. With over 60,000 fans mostly cheering for the Cougars, BYU’s fourth-year head coach is cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances.”I think they’ve prepared like they can, but you just have to wait and see,” he said. “I see potential like I’ve mentioned before. I’m optimistic because I see that potential but at the same time it hasn’t happened yet in a game so you just have to wait and see.”