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Dick Harmon: Will BYU's O-line continue solid play against rival Utah?

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 9:17 p.m. MDT

Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Robert Anae walks the sidelines as BYU practices Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Robert Anae walks the sidelines as BYU practices Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

How will BYU’s offensive line do in Game 3 against archrival Utah?

BYU's O-linemen remain a mystery — even if they turned a lot of heads a week ago against Texas.

Just what will Utah see out of this unit inside LaVell Edwards Stadium on ESPN2 Saturday night?

Three weeks ago in Charlottesville, Va., against Virginia, the offensive line looked uninspired, confused, unfocused and victim-like. The Cavaliers pushed BYU's O-linemen around like empty pop bottles.

A week later, after BYU coaches questioned the toughness of every offensive lineman, five guys lined up against then-No. 15 Texas and played with an edge. They produced a superior effort with bottomless energy. In the course of 18 minutes, they broke the will of Texas' players across the line. They looked dominating in pushing Texas defenders around and imposed their will against the Longhorns nearly every down.

In short, this maligned offensive line punched Texas in the mouth and got the Longhorns second-guessing themselves. So dominating was this effort that QB Taysom Hill ran like a deer in a wide-open field and finished with 259 yards; Jamaal Williams gained 182 yards; and a rugby player went for 87. On TV replays, Hills’ long runs didn’t have a Texas safety anywhere in the frame as he crossed the goal line.

How does that happen?

A couple of things.

The week after the Texas game, offensive coordinator Robert Anae was very forthright in crediting offensive line coach Garett Tujague.

Tujague and Anae got after BYU linemen and worked their butts off after Virginia. Tujague also created a competitive bubble in which every player had to earn a starting spot — everything was open.

In fairness to the linemen, throughout the entire month of August they spoke of a new philosophy and shadow danced through it in practice. They had no practical game experience or game tape to break down when they were learning it.

In fairness to Tujague, his game prep for Virginia had to come from 2012 tape and he hoped to align and target players based on known personnel. Virginia's weaknesses were guesswork. Against Texas, his game prep, film work and assignments for zone-blocking schemes were based on timely data.

Finally, Tujague and Anae channelled the attitude of former BYU offensive line coach Roger French. It’s a George Patton-type approach that takes players out of their comfort zones of wearing around a letterman’s jacket and getting pats on the back from family and friends. You rebuild them psychologically from the cleats up.

And apparently it worked.

“It was their mentality,” said Hill, who was named national player of the week by CBS Sports and Athlon. “They fired off the ball. There was a new enthusiasm and a buzz around the sideline with our offensive linemen.”

Hill said he could see it in the eyes of Texas players when the Cougars went fast and took it to the Longhorns in a sustained manner. Because the run worked over and over again, it demoralized Texas.

So, the big question after a bye week: Does this offensive line unit pick up where it left off against Texas?

Utah has always brought intensity to this rivalry, something Texas left somewhere else.

The Utes will scheme better than Texas. They will scout the Cougars. They'll be emotionally prepared. There will be no overlooking of Hill, Williams and the offensive line.

By the same token, this Cougar unit scraped together a lot of confidence in its last outing. Tujague filled up the pop bottles. Most experts marveled at the turnaround this unit made from the first to second game. It wasn’t just night and day — it was a solar system apart from the other.

“We have to prepare harder than we did against Texas,” said Hill.

“It’s not just another game," he said.

From Virginia to Texas to a rivalry.

It will be interesting to see if Tujague's guys add another layer on top of the progress they've made.

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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