PROVO — They're down a few belt sizes but how good can they be? Better this week and then better the next week, according to BYU offensive line coach Mark Weber as he prepared for Saturday's game against Weber State.
"We've got a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but we're making progress," said the veteran coach.
On Saturday, the mission for the Cougars may not be as formidable against the Wildcats as a week ago with Washington State, but a week from Saturday the assignment is stout, facing Utah, who some say has one of its best defensive fronts in some time — maybe all time.
Against the Wildcats, it's clean-up time. Next week, it must be, and is expected to be better.
"Like most teams this time of year we need to get more sound fundamentally and we have to do some things better and tighter like combination blocks," said Weber. "It was a really good first outing. I don't remember scoring 30 in the first game in an opener the past five years or so, so that was a good thing. There were positives but a lot of things to correct."
Weber is right. His guys did do a lot of good things in the opener.
But if Riley Nelson and company are to reach their potential, they'll have to get better quick. And fans are already on the case.
Weber almost guessed right on the points scored in openers.
In the Bronco Mendenhall era of which Weber is a part, the 30 points scored against Washington State is the most since the 2008 first game against Northern Iowa (41 points) with junior quarterback Max Hall.
In Mendenhall's first opener in 2005 the Cougars managed just three points against Boston College. In 2006, it was 13 against Arizona. In Hall's senior campaign of 2009 BYU scored 14 in a win over Oklahoma. The Jake Heaps/Riley Nelson experiment of 2010 managed 23 points against Washington and at Oxford, Miss., a year ago BYU's offense scored 14.
In this year's opener, Weber sends a reminder that he started a redshirt freshman left tackle in Ryker Mathews, a redshirt sophomore with his first-ever start in center Blair Tushaus, and sophomore right guard Brock Stringham saw his first career start.
Weber graded his tackles high, but noted his guards need some work.
"I thought the guards did OK in pass but we have to get some things done in the interior with the run game, double teams, combination blocks and targeting. We need to sharpen things up but the speed of the game is different from what new guys are used to seeing and it takes some time to get used to it," Weber said.
The positives for critics who expect a better push for the run game? Tushaus was perfect on center snaps and earned high marks for line calls.
The pass protection proved decent and stood out in films.
Weber liked the effort. "They all played very hard," he said. "We played fast. We put pressure on that (Washington State) defense because we were in better shape. They weren't getting lined up because of our tempo. On one touchdown, their guys were taking a knee catching breath while we were in the end zone celebrating. It was kind of fun to see."
Last in Weber's breakdown, he says he liked overall communication for a starting game.
"This thing is not a sprint. They are going to be in a better place in three games and an even better place in five games. The important thing is to make continual progress.
"How many games do you see where, in first games, guys are making false starts, and there are a ton of penalties? I don't think we got a holding call in that game and that's probably a high point. Also, there were no turnovers, but we did have one false start. It was a pretty clean game."
The speed of the game affected some of his rookie starters. It was new.
"Being there for the first time with guys close to you, if you aren't sure, there is some hesitation and it makes you not so sharp. They'll gain confidence as we go."
It's creeping up on his crew. After Weber State, the line will have to figure out how to deal with Star Lotulelei and his band of havoc.
For Saturday, it's just another day and another step forward for Weber.
Thing is, anybody who knows anything about this team is especially interested in how he gets this done.
It's that important.
Said Weber: "It's nice to win a game and have a lot of things to improve."
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