BYU sporting new look
By Ferd Lewis
This is not your father's Brigham Young University football team. And, for sure, it is no longer LaVell Edwards' either.
For the nearly quarter-century in which they were regular visitors here, you always knew who the Cougars were and what they were about. Love 'em or hate 'em, there was a well-worn familiarity to their visits and an understanding of their modus operandi between 1974 and '98.
You knew, for instance, that Edwards was their coach and that while this respected, grandfatherly figure stood on the opposing sidelines, arms folded, his face a mask of Mt. Rushmore impassivity, the Cougars would usually: throw the ball, play solid defense and throw the ball some more.
Now, as the Cougars return today after a three-year absence for Saturday's nationally televised regular season finale, we've got some catching up to do.
For one thing, the official Cougar blue is now a darker shade. For another, the 71-year-old Edwards has retired after 29 seasons to his home overlooking Provo, Utah, turning over the keys to a one-time student assistant and former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator, Gary Crowton.
Crowton, as you might expect of a soon-to-be father of seven, is active and animated. And, definitely hands-on.
What the 43-year-old Crowton has done with the Cougars in a few short months and in the shadow of Edwards, who casts one as imposing as the Wasatch range, has been remarkable.
Not only for the 12-0 record and No. 8 ranking the Cougars arrive with, but also for how he's done it, tinkering with the well-established formula. These days the Cougar playbook is thicker than the Salt Lake City phone book and the number of offensive formations more extensive than the line outside the Brick Oven on Friday nights.
Their offense is a three-ring circus and their ringmaster the only Korean-speaking Division I-A coach, the result of Crowton's two-year LDS mission to Seoul.
On one play, the Cougars might line up with three tight ends. And, on the next, five wide receivers. Along the way, nothing is off the table, including going for it on fourth-and-plenty or on-side kicks. "This is a different offense than you're used to seeing," said Ron McBride, Utah's head coach.
These Cougars are as likely to run as throw and, indeed, the reason they lead the nation in both scoring and total offense is that they are in the Top 10 in the country in both rushing and passing.
The school known as QB-YU for its decades-long production line of quarterbacks could have a player this week named the winner of the Doak Walker Award that goes to the nation's top running back. Before he sustained a broken leg last week, Luke Staley set the BYU record for rushing, 1,582 yards and 24 touchdowns, figures that doubled the best school marks in most years.
BYU now has Brandon Doman, a quarterback who runs the option on occasion. He might have been the only BYU quarterback that Air Force also heavily recruited.
But if the offense is new-look, the defense is, well, almost unrecognizable in the BYU brand. A Cougar team that gives up, on average, 27 points a game and ranks in the bottom 15 percent nationally in rushing and total defense is practically unheard of.
Like we said, this is a new era in BYU football.