‘We have got to get way better’: BYU is 3-0, but Cougars’ Kedon Slovis-led offense off to an unusually slow start
While Cougars’ defense has been better than expected, their offense ranks among worst in country in some categories
BYU receivers coach and passing game coordinator Fesi Sitake wanted to make it clear that he was only speaking about the aspects of the Cougars’ offense that he oversees, but his assessment of those areas was blunt and to the point Wednesday after practice.
“We have got to get way better,” Sitake said. “We have to be more efficient in the passing game. We are struggling on third downs. … There are a lot of things to clean up.”
“I feel really comfortable with the offense. It is a matter of executing on all cylinders and putting together a complete game. I thought last week we played well in spurts and other spurts not as well. As a unit and as individuals, we think we can play better.” — BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis
Then there’s the running game, which is outside of Sitake’s responsibilities. It has been worse than the passing attack. The Cougars are 124th in the country in rushing offense, averaging just 78.3 rushing yards per game.
But that’s a topic for another day.
The Cougars (3-0) head into their first Big 12 game ever Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN) at 3-0 Kansas with a defense that has been better than almost anyone expected, but an offense that, frankly, has not lived up to expectations.
Special teams has been above average, save that punt return for a touchdown the Cougars gave up to Arkansas, and those crazy and ill-advised fakes when they were absolutely not needed. Telling stat: BYU is tied for second for most punts in the country, with 21.
Did not see that coming.
“There have been a lot of good things,” Sitake acknowledged regarding the passing game. “There have been good plays made, and guys are starting to feel comfortable with the offense. But we definitely have strides we need to make.”
On a more positive note, the Cougars have been incredibly efficient, having scored 93 points on just 179 plays from scrimmage. They are tied for 61st in scoring offense (31.0 ppg.).
And they’ve been outstanding in the red zone, going 10 for 10 when they’ve been inside the 20 with nine touchdowns and a field goal. That’s tied for tops in the country with 18 other schools.
“College football scoring is down a bit; you are not going to get as many plays, so it is important to be efficient on those plays,” BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis said Wednesday. “It is really important when we do get the ball on the plus side of the field to score on those drives, and I thought we did a good job of that last week.”
Indeed, BYU scored 38 points off 55 plays in the 38-31 win over Arkansas.
Slovis finally had all his offensive weapons at his disposal last week as receiver Kody Epps returned to the lineup, and he heated up after a slow start. He’s now 60th in the country in passing efficiency (142.9) and has completed 55 of 90 passes for 660 yards and six touchdowns, with one interception.
“It wasn’t our best day, but it was fun to see us play well in spurts and not make too many mistakes to cost us the game. We still put up points. We were really efficient when we did score, really efficient in the red zone,” Slovis said. “Proud to come out of there with a win, but a lot to build off of and I think our best ball is ahead of us.”
Sitake said Epps, who didn’t have a reception against Arkansas and was targeted once, has practiced all week and is expected to play against the Jayhawks. He did get one carry, which went for two yards.
“We struggled on that,” Fesi Sitake said. “We need to do better. … I gotta do a better job of getting my guys better prepared for that type of corner and that type of defense.”
The Cougars also need to be better on first and second down so they are not facing so many third-and-long situations. They are just 12 of 40 on third down (.300), which ties them for 121st in the country.
Slovis has been put in some really difficult situations. Fesi Sitake said the fifth-year senior deserves credit for taking care of the football, a trait that will be extremely valuable this week because Kansas ranks first in the country in “havoc rate” — which is the percentage of defensive plays resulting in sacks, interceptions, deflected balls, pass breakups and tackles for loss.
The Jayhawks have forced five fumbles, for instance.
BYU’s offense ranks 116th, averaging just 310.7 yards. Slovis acknowledged there’s work to do.
Cougars on the air
at Kansas (3-0)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM
“I feel really comfortable with the offense. It is a matter of executing on all cylinders and putting together a complete game,” he said. “I thought last week we played well in spurts and other spurts not as well. As a unit and as individuals, we think we can play better.”
Fesi Sitake said the sluggish start offensively can’t be blamed on any one player, or any one unit.
“A lot of what are the perceived struggles with (Slovis) is an 11-man deal on offense,” Fesi said. “We need to do better at the receiver position in getting open and making plays, which in turn will make him look better. And that can go for every position. But overall, really glad he’s our quarterback.”