Heading into Saturday’s game at No. 5 Notre Dame (1:30 p.m., NBC), no one who follows BYU football would be surprised to hear that junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman leads the team in receptions (41) and receiving yards (534).
The next Cougar on the list is junior tight end Kaneakua Friel with 23 catches for 266 yards.
What might be more surprising is that the entire rest of the BYU offense has tallied 79 receptions for just 761 yards. Although that is 15 more catches, it is less than the combined yardage of the top two pass-catchers (800).
“We need to find more production out of the other positions,” said Cougar offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. “A lot of that had to with the confidence that the quarterback has in getting the ball to those guys. It’s design of plays but those guys need to start making plays. The quarterback gains confidence as guys make plays for him.”
BYU wide receivers coach Ben Cahoon said he’s seen glimpses of what the rest of the receivers are capable of but that then need to be more consistent.
“I would say we’ve been good but not great,” he explained. “I think they all realize that. They have made a lot of plays but in each game we’ve left a play or two out there. We have very high expectations for the wide receivers here at BYU and we have a ways to go.”
The wideout that most Cougar fans would say could do more would be sophomore Ross Apo, who said it’s been tough at times.
“We’ve been struggling at quarterback and you just never know what is going to happen on any given play with Riley Nelson,” Apo said. “He could take off or throw it. We need to work on getting open for him and making his job easier.”
Hoffman agrees, saying that he thinks the flanker on the other side of the field will be an important figure for the BYU offense as it completes the 2012 season.
“He’s had an off-year so far but we’re barely over halfway and he knows that,” Hoffman said. “He’s keeping his head up and still working hard every day in practice. I want to see him pick it up soon.”
Part of the issue for Apo is simply his location on the field. Being on the far side of the field means the ball has to travel a lot further.
“Because he’s lining up farther from the quarterback, a lot of time the quarterback will elect to make the shorter, easier throw,” Cahoon said. “We’ve also not been healthy or had a lot of experience at quarterback for much of this year, so it’s been harder to spread the ball around.”
That also might explain why the ball either seems to said or come in low when BYU tries to get the ball to Apo on the quick passes.
“It’s probably crossed people’s minds that since I’m out there can he get the ball out there, but he’s done it before,” Apo said. “I have complete faith in him that he can get it out there. Sometimes it doesn’t happen but sometimes it does.”
One of those turned out to be disastrous in the fourth quarter of the Oregon State game when the low pass bounced off Apo’s arms and ended up carooming right to a Beaver defender.
Hoffman said those are the type of plays receivers dread.
“It’s very frustrating but you could kind of say that is how the season has been,” the junior said. “We’ve been so close but not close enough. You have to keep your head up through things like that and keep playing hard, and it will play out.”
It’s been hard for Apo to get the play out of his mind but he said he’s trying to use it as motivation.
“I was thinking about it all weekend but I need to move past that,” Apo said. “When I have a play like that, I need to get under it. I can’t let that happen next time.”
Cahoon said that is the key to taking the game to the next level for the entire receiving corps.
“As a receiver, you can’t choose whether you get one ball or 10 balls in a game,” the receivers coach said. “But if you get one, you need to make a play regardless whether it is a bad pass or a good pass.”
Hoffman pointed out that the receivers haven’t been the only unit that has seen some tough times in the first seven games.
“The receivers are trying to get involved and they are doing their part,” he said. “Things just aren’t going their way. They are working hard and they are great players, but we’ve been struggling as an offense. I think eventually it will come around.”
That’s also been a factor in limiting the emphasis on spreading the ball around.
Cahoon said the BYU offense works better when a lot of players are getting chances to make catches and he looks a pass distribution at halftime. With some of the offensive issues, however, he said he just is looking for completed passes and he can’t be picky.
As evidenced by the numbers, that player has usually been Hoffman and for good reason.
“He gets open and makes contested catches,” Cahoon said. “He’s earned extra looks because of the way he has played. When a guy is on him, he still comes down with the ball. The quarterback knows that if he chucks it up there, he’s going to have chance to have him come down with the ball. He’s doing that at a high level and the other guys need to duplicate that.”
Apo hopes to be able to reach that level and said he’s been staying after with Nelson for extra work, looking to develop more chemistry.
“The more you catch, the more looks you give him, the more confident he will be in throwing to you,” Apo explained.
Cahoon sees that as well and thinks the time is coming for Apo to have more opportunities.
“He’s a great receiver and works hard,” Cahoon said. “Once he earns that confidence, he’ll have one of those breakout games.”
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.