Dick Harmon: BYU's acid test arrives Aug. 31, but Robert Anae's 'go fast, go hard' offense shows promise
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
PROVO — This is the Robert Anae ticker.
It's been eight months since his January hire, six months since the start of spring practices, three weeks into fall camp and 13 days before the 2013 season opener.
How successful has Anae’s return to BYU as offensive coordinator been so far? And how do you measure that when the Cougars have yet to open the season on the road against Virginia?
Well, you have to look at what he sold as his vision, grade how he’s implemented it and gauge progress in both tangible and intangible ways.
First, the idea.
Anae sold head coach Bronco Mendenhall on a vision of having a "go fast, go hard" offense, tailored after his experience at Arizona. Many questioned if he had the personnel to do it. He responded to that by saying that the most important things in pulling the offense off were the effort, hard work and increased tempo of his players. If they bought in, Anae argued, he could pull it off.
Today, to a man, BYU offensive players are sold on the product. They embraced it in spring, kept it rolling in summer, and came to fall camp ready to implement it. Frankly, it opened a lot of eyes of players and staff members, especially the head coach. It seems to have piqued the interest of recruits, as shown in the signing of Oregon offensive lineman Brayden Kearsley and the summer commitment of four-star JC recruit Nick Kurtz, a 6-foot-6 speedy receiver from Grossmont (Calif.) Community College.
Second, the progress.
We don’t have a game to weigh BYU's progress, only eyewitness accounts, testimony of players from closed practices, explanations from coaches and 11-on-11 statistics.
What we’ve learned is Anae’s offense, as designed, has stressed out BYU’s defense. It has pushed what was in 2012 the nation’s No. 3 defense to exhaustion. It has also forced Mendenhall to rethink every aspect of daily practice to protect secondary players who have been impacted by depth issues and injuries. Mendenhall has made the squad take more respites for regeneration.
Monday, Mendenhall had officials at practice and noticed that the refs actually slowed down BYU’s offense. He told reporters he might have to do some politicking with officials, citing how former Oregon coach Chip Kelly got 17 of them fired in his tenure as Ducks coach. Pace is that important.
Anae said he’s done putting in new stuff. Now, he says, is time to polish and perfect. “We’ve taken more steps forward than backwards,” he said of his offensive line.
The biggest tick upward might be that O-line. Given that they were a pretty banged up, sorry unit a year ago, it was huge that Anae recruited and signed eight linemen last February. Now he has fodder — more clay to mold, more bodies, more competition and more choices. The second biggest takeaway is how good and deep the receiver corps appears, led by senior Cody Hoffman. To coin that PGA commercial phrase, "These guys are good."
I asked new receiver coach Guy Holliday if the offense is working the way the staff thought it would when coaches all drew it up in January.
He gave a very interesting response.
“Without a doubt,” he said, “Robert is great at this "go fast, go hard." He’s very open and we have a great working relationship, so as we grow the passing game, I’m very happy and extremely pleased with how things have gone. I don’t plan on leaving BYU, but I tell you what, if I was an offensive coordinator I would take this offense because it has so many options you have to account for.”
And what are those options that seem to work so well?
The simplicity of BYU's zone blocking is allowing quicker play. The fast pace is placing defenders in uncomfortable positions — mentally, physically and schematically. By cheating on recovery time for defenders, the offense is creating bigger plays, especially deep. A team starved for chunk yardage is getting just that, albeit with some star defenders used sparingly in team practice sets.
Third, what about intangibles?
The biggest, in my opinion, is the unity and chemistry of the staff Anae assembled. Players see this and step in line.
It is a big thing to dump an entire staff, a coordinator and bring in all new faces. Starting over isn’t always fun, easy or productive. It is risky.
But if you watch Anae’s staff at work, they appear to be the elixir the Cougars needed. The new guys are vocal, spirited, pushy, determined, focused on specifics and are unyielding in what they accept as passable performances.
Anae has always been a stickler for detail, especially effort. With Garett Tujague from College of the Canyons (Calif.) joining him coaching the offensive line, the scrutiny is extreme, as is the coaching intensity. By hiring a QB coach in Jason Beck, Anae has a luxury not given to his predecessor Brandon Doman, who tried to wear hats of coordinator and QB coach. This is important because Beck is always in the room and his focus in practice is on one position.
As a receiver coach, he is knowledge, crafty, demanding and instills confidence. You have to look no further than the seeming resurrection of oft-injured receiver Ross Apo. The former Texas commit has never practiced harder or played tougher than this fall.
Mark Atuaia? His intensity level adds to a staff chorus that hasn’t been seen on BYU sidelines since the days of Roger French. The refrain is the opposite of timidity.
So, how is this Anae thing working?
It’s a parade with potential.
Nobody can completely deliver a clear verdict on how good BYU’s offense will be in Charlottesville, Va., come Aug. 31.
But by all accounts — from all kinds of sources, measuring sticks and scales that one can find in fall camp — Anae is on to something and it looks coordinated.
Most definitely, this is a better offense than the one that struggled to score against San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl last December.
Maybe by a mile. Or a light year or so.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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