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Cougar offense lacking

Crowton won’t rest until potent attack is back

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If Gary Crowton is a football genius, all those synapses strung among folds in his gray matter have to deliver the goods this week.

When Air Force comes to Provo for a conference showdown with the Cougars on Saturday, it may be the most important game of his BYU career, and Crowton's got a gorilla squatting on his plate.

Crowton's proud plate is his offense. It's his baby, ranked No. 1 in the nation two years ago. But now it's as impotent as Pharaoh's eunuch.

There is no run game. He's giving a true freshman quarterback his second start. His offensive line is coming off its worst performance in two years. His kick and punt coverage is struggling. Opponents that can't match up toe-to-toe with his defense are scoring with short fields due to a turnover rate highest in the league — just like last year.

Foes, on average, have to go only 33 yards, or 40 percent less, for their scores due to Cougar turnovers, sacks, penalties and poor special-teams coverage.

His defense is playing championship ball but has lost Pac-10 fights like a one-armed swordsman.

His defense, ranked No. 12 nationally, now has players tossing the ball to teammates after grabbing turnovers in attempts to score because the offense can't. None of BYU's four opponents have gone 80 or more yards for a score on the defense. The four opponents have a combined 14 points when forced to go 60 to 80 yards.

Funny thing is, much of this is correctable. But is it correctable in time?

BYU's offensive-line woes will be helped significantly with the return of veteran center Scott Jackson this week. He's the man who calls blocking schemes for linemen and backs at the line. Young John Beck, you'll see, will be far more effective in his second start. Cougar running backs really didn't get a chance last week.

But what about Crowton? Did he hold back some offense against Stanford? Yes. Did he seem one-dimensional last Saturday? Yup. Did Crowton outsmart himself late in the fourth quarter with a 14-12 lead and 4:12 on the clock? Absolutely.

Crowton, you see, is a gambler. He's also bright, competitive and driven. But last I checked, gambling is a compulsive-obsessive trait. It's an urge, a temptation and a war that rages within.

Item: At New Mexico, Crowton showed great personal restraint by going conservative and relying on his defense to hold and defeat the Lobos in a big wind. At the same time, his Rey Brathwaite halfback pass in the final minutes was a brilliant gamble play.

Item: On Saturday, Crowton's use of Lance Pendleton and Todd Mortensen on a double pass touchdown was a genius gamble. But his play choice with 4:12 left and the lead, a first-down complicated pass 20 yards down field that was a tipped pass for an interception led to the Cardinal winning touchdown. It was a blunder.

A war rages inside Crowton. You see it in letting co-offensive coordinator Robbie Bosco call plays for one half before taking back the throttle himself in the second half Saturday.

Crowton knows this.

One of the great characters in literature and cinema is J.R.R. Tolkein's duel personality Gollom in "Lord of the Rings," who turned into an embattled and tortured soul named Smeagol.

Crowton's Smeagol at the 4:12 mark Saturday went like this:

Smeagol I: "We've won, we've won, just run three safe plays and let All-American punter Matt Payne kick and our great defense stop Stanford for a win."

Smeagol II: "No, my precious. My precious pass. I must have my precious pass. My precious, my precious . . ."

Result: Smeagol II wins, calls a compulsive-gamble complicated pass play where freshman John Beck sprints right and throws back left toward tight end Daniel Coats 20 yards down field. The ball gets tipped, intercepted, turned into a winning Cardinal touchdown.

The Smeagol I thought process was the science of football geometry, a code of proven procedural operation more than a century old.

The Smeagol II action was the triumph of the gambler over reason and thrill of the moment.

Now, how much of this entire heap on his plate can Gary Crowton correct come Saturday?

Well, all of it, if Crowton kills the gorilla.

E-MAIL: dharmon@desnews.com