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‘One of the best offenses we’ve had in a while’: BYU’s attack works on timing during lengthy gap between games

Going 19 days between games won’t disrupt BYU’s timing on offense, quarterback Zach Wilson and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes say

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BYU’s Lopini Katoa (4) celebrates with running back Tyler Allgeier (25) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against the Navy , Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 that keeping its timing intact will be a key for Cougars’ offense on Saturday against Troy after a lengthy gap between games.

Tommy Gilligan, Associated Press

PROVO — Plenty of watchwords have emerged this month as college football teams juggle schedules, lineups, testing for COVID-19 and even living arrangements to ensure they can play games in the midst of a pandemic.

For BYU, timing has risen to the top of the list of concerns. Last week, its timing was bad, and a much-anticipated showdown with Army had to be scrapped because fielding a team to travel to West Point “was not feasible,” in the words of assistant head coach Ed Lamb.

For No. 18-ranked BYU’s offense this week, as it prepares to face Troy (1-0) at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, timing takes on a whole different meaning. Getting back the timing that was so extraordinary in the 55-3 waxing of Navy on Sept. 7 is a priority for quarterback Zach Wilson and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.

We are going to come out ready to play Saturday. Honestly, I am not too worried about it at all. … Because honestly this is one of the best offenses we’ve had in a while.“ — BYU quarterback Zach Wilson

“Yeah, (timing) is very much at the forefront of my mind,” Grimes said Monday on his “Coordinators’ Corner” show. “Especially after last week, not being able to play a game, and having changed the nature of how we practice a little bit, working more in small groups, rather than in full practice. So this week will be critical for us to get our timing back to where we want to see it.”

Coach Kalani Sitake said the Cougars were able to “practice as a complete team” on Monday, but stopped short of saying every player who has had to quarantine for 10 or 14 days after testing positive for the virus or being in close contact to someone who was positive is back at practice.

“So we will still use our masks, and our shields on our face masks and practice social distancing on the field, but we will practice as a team, as a unit,” he said.

With that many disruptions, and facing a 19-day gap between games, can Wilson — who revealed Monday that he had the coronavirus over the summer — and company possibly be as crisp, as sharp, as they were while piling up 28 first downs, 580 yards and 55 points on the Midshipmen on Sept. 7?

Never one to lack confidence or positivity, Wilson didn’t hesitate Monday in proclaiming the Cougars (1-0) won’t miss a beat, even if Troy’s defense appears to be more solid than Navy’s was.

“Yeah, for sure,” Wilson said. “We have some veteran guys. … Not having live reps (for several weeks) is not going to affect this team. Guys are ready to go, and guys are handling their business. We are going to come out ready to play Saturday. Honestly, I am not too worried about it at all. … Because honestly this is one of the best offenses we’ve had in a while.”

Wilson, who was 13 for 18 for 232 yards and two touchdowns against Navy, with two drops and an interception that wasn’t completely his fault, said working out in small groups last week didn’t slow the passing game’s progress at all. In fact, it might have helped to get a re-set, of sorts, and work on timing and running routes against air.

“Personally, I felt like I got in exactly what I would get in from practice anyway, except for the live reps of going against the defense,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it feels quite like a training camp again, but we do a little bit of training in the weight room to be ready.”

Only a few teams played, but Pro Football Focus rated BYU No. 1 in terms of best offensive line performance the first week . It was as close to perfection as an offense can get, with just one penalty (a false start on freshman tight end Isaac Rex), a couple off-target throws by Wilson and the aforementioned dropped passes on the first series — which resulted in a touchdown anyway.

The Cougars were 6 of 11 on third-down conversions.

“Yeah, I was really pleased with the things that I saw in terms of readiness for our first game, for us to not only have the yards and the score we had, but a pretty clean game,” Grimes said. “We had the one turnover, which was kind of a fluke deal. And if you come out of a first game with one penalty you feel like you are headed in the right direction in terms of producing the kind of guys who can be consistent and reliable for you.”

Can that kind of momentum carry over into a game 19 days later? 

Sitake doesn’t see why not. He says this is a mature team that learned its lessons from last season, when wins over USC and Tennessee were followed by losses to Toledo and South Florida.

“I feel like we are in a great spot,” Sitake said. “We would love to play every week and we want to play from here on out. We just had a little hiccup last week, and the guys are champing at the bit. They are ready to get back on the field and play in their home opener here at LaVell Edwards Stadium.”

He said Monday’s practice “was a little bit heavier” than the typical Monday practice, a nod to not having any contact drills the previous week. 

“The momentum is about the guys wanting to get out there and get ready,” he said. “I mean, these guys are excited to practice today. … They appreciate everything and they don’t take things for granted. That’s part of being on this football team. They love it, including practice.”

The timing is always right for that.