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Pivotal time for Crowton

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Gary Crowton is standing in two footprints left by the legendary LaVell Edwards.

One of the indentations is huge, and Crowton's Nikes literally swim in the crater.

The other fits like a sock.

The footprint that's pretty tight right now is the short-term picture Crowton finds himself in with a 2-3 record and many Cougar fans nipping at his heels while others are leaping off the guardrail like rats on the Titanic.

What Crowton does with this foot in the one place is far more critical than the other — which he may have little control of someday.

Back in 1972, Edwards' first year as head coach, his squad etched out a 7-4 record — great stuff in those days. His next team fell to 5-6, a definite step back. Crowton did the same his first year. He took a 6-6 Edwards team in 2000 and went 12-2. It put many in a swoon. But in Crowton's second year, just like Edwards, BYU fell to 5-7, another definite step back.

Today, it's a rerun of 30 years ago in Provo.

In Edwards third season, 1974, he had a great defense led by Paul Linford and Keith "Mad Dog" Rivera. But the offense couldn't get started with a junior college quarterback named Gary Sheide.

Sound familiar?

That year the Cougars lost a cliffhanger to Hawaii 15-13 in the opener.

They lost to Utah State 9-6 the next week before getting clobbered at Iowa State 34-7. Then in an infamous gaffe at Colorado State, all BYU had to do is fall on the ball at the end of the game to win but the Rams ended up tying the game as seconds ticked off and Edwards looked at 0-3-1 and free fall.

But something got into that 1974 crew. Sheide turned it on the following week in a 38-7 win over Wyoming in Provo. That started a seven-game win streak that led to a WAC championship and first-ever BYU bowl appearance in Tempe's new Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State.

It proved to be the most pivotal seven games in Edwards' career because it launched one of the more dominating college football runs in the region — and made Edwards legend.

This is where Crowton finds himself today. Like Edwards was, Crowton is in his third year, facing criticism, second-guessing, media scrutiny, upset fans and inconsistency on the field.

He is where Edwards was, and it doesn't feel very good.

So, what is Crowton going to do?

That's the multimillion-dollar question because that's what's at stake in terms of the investment BYU has made in Crowton's regime, a post-Edwards event.

The time for excuses is over. Any more talk of inexperience, no matter how true and fitting, is only an out for coaches and players. The time has come for BYU to suck up and decide what kind of season this will become.

There are some building blocks. Some came from last week.

For the second time this season (UNM and AFA), the Cougar offensive line allowed just one sack on a quarterback. While freshman John Beck was hit plenty and blitzed on almost every play, the protection improved as he used his mobility to keep some plays alive. That's a building block.

For the first time this season, the Cougars cut their penalties down to a manageable 7 for 50 yards against Air Force. That's still too many, but far from the double digits earlier in September.

The Cougar third-down conversion ratio of 7 for 16 (44 percent) against Air Force was the best of the season — something else to building upon. That conversion ratio is the best in six games dating back to 11 of 16 in a 2002 win over Wyoming. Besides the opener against Georgia Tech (7 of 19, .390) you have to go back 12 games (at USU) to find BYU converting more than four third-down situations in a game. It only occurred three times all last year.

Solving that third-down malady, perhaps the crux of Crowton's offensive woes with personnel and play calling, would go light years towards producing sustained drives and points.

But is it enough?

Of course not.

Crowton needs more consistency in execution to continue. He needs increased protection of his QB or he'll be on No. 3 by Columbus Day. He needs a running game, and with defenses owning superior knowledge of what's coming with BYU's play calls and game plan (Stanford and AFA), he's got to mix it up and come to the table with something new.

AFA defenders were actually calling out BYU's plays before the snap, according to Cougar players. They had the Cougars scoped out like S.I.'s swimsuit edition.

Crowton has his work cut out for himself as he heads into San Diego State, a team that's all of a sudden grown hair on defense and returns its starting quarterback.

Fortunately for Crowton, he's coaching some guys who've got some guts and pride and aren't quitting.

He can use that like Edwards did with Sheide and Co. some 30 years ago.

Until then, at least for this week, Crowton's standing in a couple of holes. One he'll continue to feel lost in; the other feels very familiar.

E-MAIL: dharmon@desnews.com