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Dick Harmon: BYU O-line coach Tujague faces big challenge

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 4 2013 6:48 p.m. MDT

Terrance Alletto during   BYU football practice  Monday, March 18, 2013, in Provo.  
 (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Terrance Alletto during BYU football practice Monday, March 18, 2013, in Provo. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Garrett Tujague is carrying a heavy load these days.

It is his job to take the clay that is BYU’s offensive linemen and shape it into a respectable unit that can run a new offensive scheme.

As shown in the opening loss at Virginia, Tujague’s job is far from being a kiln-hardened product worthy of the showcase. He’s still carrying around his toolbox and moving clumps here and there. He channels his old coach, the legendary Roger French, of whom he’s a devoted disciple. This week he’s shuffled the starting lineup and called for his guys to be tougher, meaner and more physical.

And now, No. 15 ranked Texas comes to town.

“If we don’t come out and execute significantly better, it will be a very long day,” Tujague told reporters this week.

BYU Offensive Line Coach Garrett Tujague meets with member of the media during the 2013 BYU Football Media Day.

BYU Broadcast Building, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

June 26, 2013 (Jaren Wilkey/BYU, Jaren Wilkey/BYU) BYU Offensive Line Coach Garrett Tujague meets with member of the media during the 2013 BYU Football Media Day. BYU Broadcast Building, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah June 26, 2013 (Jaren Wilkey/BYU, Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

“The offensive line needs to be more physical and dominating,” said Bronco Mendenhall.

Is it talent, experience, culture, attitude, the scheme? Or genetics?

It may be all the above. But Tujague is bent on fixing it and fast. “It’s 100 percent on me,” he said.

The most expedient task is to get BYU’s offensive line to play more physically.

As offensive coordinator Robert Anae put it, “They need to play with an edge to what they do.”

Interpretation: Opposite of timid, meek, hesitant and being a pansy.

“It's finding guys that have that edge; that can stand toe to toe and trade punches,” Tujague said.

Brigham Young Cougars offensive linesman Michael Yeck (77) during pre-game as BYU plays Idaho in the Cougar's final home football game on 2012  Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012,in Provo, Utah.  
 (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars offensive linesman Michael Yeck (77) during pre-game as BYU plays Idaho in the Cougar's final home football game on 2012 Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012,in Provo, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Tackle Ryker Matthews agreed. He explained part of that challenge is to totally buy into schemes being implemented. To play a zone blocking scheme, you have to trust that it will work and play with confidence and no hesitation. That might take a few games.

BYU doesn’t have a few games. The schedule doesn’t allow it, especially in September. “We’re starting to buy in,” said Matthews.

Tujague promised his offensive line would get better, would absolutely improve. “No question,” he said. “We will improve.”

Matthews says Tujague often mentions Roger French in the team room and on the field. Tujague and Robert Anae were both members of what was called the “French Legion,” back in the day. So was current Kansas City Chief coach Andy Reid.

The French Legion had a reputation. They were nasty, they played with extreme confidence. They were known for doing everything possible to protect the quarterback. And they got a lot of feedback from opponents.

Back in the day, you’d often hear WAC coaches around the Rockies complain when their pass rushers were frustrated, that French’s guys held, that they held on every play, they were too old, too mature. Coaches from Albuquerque to Fort Collins, from Laramie to Colorado Springs through San Diego complained to the media privately and publicly: Older Holders. They filed protests with WAC and Mountain West officials to “watch” those guys. Back in the day, BYU would be called for holding routinely all the time, a reaction to the complaints. People feared BYU’s O-line, and their whine was “they hold.”

Jim McMahon laughed because it meant he could get more yards on third and 20.

You may remember seeing the Notre Dame game in South Bend when Jamaal Willis and John Walsh led the Cougars to a win. TV cameras caught Fighting Irish coach Lou Holtz on the sidelines putting an official in a head lock, demonstrating what he believed he saw out of a BYU lineman. He was frustrated his men couldn’t get to Walsh.

It was a weekly drama. And it was funny. But one thing you could count on, members of the French Legion brought it every play and sent a message down after down. They were not passive men; they were not pansies and they made crybabies out of grown men.

“Coach French called after the (Virginia) game,” Anae said. “He reminded us of his first game at BYU in 1980 (25-21 loss to New Mexico) and it wasn’t as disastrous as that. He told us to stay the course and we will. Nothing will change but our determination with an edge and greater purpose.”

Anae said BYU will be a better version of itself come Saturday, better in its second effort than the first.

How? Anae and Tujague said by changes that will be made and the competition they’ll forge. They moved Brock Stringham to right tackle, switched Michael Yeck from right tackle to left, will start Manaaki Vaiai at left guard, keep Terrance Alletto at center and are watching a real fight for right guard — keeping it open most of this week before Texas.

“We’re going to shuffle the line [this week] and see how others respond,” said Anae.

Asked about Tujague, Anae called him “great” at what he does.

Tujague, like French, is about hard work, pushing personal limits beyond comfort and overachieving. But most of all, he wants his guys to impose their will on the other guys. Make the other guys fear his guys.

We didn’t see that in Charlottesville.

“We have rallied the troops and acknowledged mistakes we made. All these mistakes are fixable,” said Tujague.

Create an edge, be more physical, impose wills on others?

We’ll know when complaints over the age of players becomes a cry.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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