PROVO — Robert Anae, taskmaster and media teaser.
Quarterbacks may have completed long and short passes and running backs got in some good catches and runs in BYU’s spring football game Saturday, but Cougar offensive coordinator Anae refused to cut his players any quarter. They could do much better.
A mercenary rehired by Bronco Mendenhall to bring toughness and fast-play to the Cougar offense, Anae had out his whip on the sidelines and his game face on when he talked to the media after the Blue-White affair.
“We’ve got a long way to go in terms of playing fast and playing hard. So, whatever you write in your goofy columns, write that, we’ve got a long way to go to the point where I’m satisfied with how fast we play and how hard we play,” said Anae.
But coach, Ammon Olsen, Christian Stewart and Tanner Mangum looked pretty good throwing passes. Mangum went 8 for 8 and the offense scored 30.
Doesn’t matter. Anae expects more. The only praise he would offer is that the offense protected the football and had only one turnover.
That he didn’t have QB Taysom Hill or receiver Cody Hoffman or other key players on the field didn’t matter in his assessment that things were too slow.
“You have to put this into perspective,” said Anae. n“The defense was resting their studs, so don’t blow this out of proportion. It wasn’t that great and it wasn’t that bad.”
And that is true.
You can’t judge a football team by a staged, heavily managed, carefully orchestrated spring game where key players are protected. “When our defense straps it on, it is on. Write that in your column,” said Anae.
But as more than 12,000 fans gathered in LaVell Edwards Stadium, the crowd did get a first glimpse at what Anae is trying to do with BYU’s offense in the post-Riley Nelson era. He expects quick hikes and players giving it up 110 percent mentally and physically.
Interesting enough, BYU’s offense, the main focus of spring drills with an entire new staff, did operate fast. I put a stopwatch on the first four possessions of the game. After officials placed the ball down for play, Cougar centers hiked the ball as quick as four seconds. Sometimes it took as long as 12, but the average was about 8 seconds.
I asked Anae if he had a goal to reach in how fast he wanted a play run. “A lot faster than we did today.”
A series with Snow College transfer QB Christian Stewart had plays that went off in 4.8, 4.0, 5.7, 7.5, 9.1, 9.4, 7.0, 5.4, 6.0, 5.4 and 12.7 seconds after the ball was down.
Not quick enough. In Anae’s world, people were not ready, set or doing it fast enough.
Much of this is on the offensive line. Some may be on receivers and backs getting set. And although BYU’s makeshift offensive line looked manageable against BYU’s stud-less defense, a BYU defensive coach said one must remember the Cougars will bring in eight linemen between now and fall camp.
“A lot of work to do,” said Anae. “We’ve got a long way to go.”
Outside linebacker coach Kelly Poppinga said the Blue-White game doesn’t define who BYU is. The team had never been in a stadium, game-like atmosphere through 12 sessions this spring, and there were issues that cropped up just because of the setting.
Poppinga, who looks at the offense from a defensive perspective every day on film and the practice field, says he has seen big strides in Anae’s goals this spring.
“They are doing an incredible job just by culture and mindset,” said Poppinga.
“They’ve got those guys playing harder than I’ve ever seen them play. They’re trying harder, caring about the collective entire team. Its fun to see what Bronco Mendenhall preaches and wants in a team.”
If Anae fiddled a little with the media, asking some to be sure to “put that in your little paper,” it may have been a carryover from his Saturday on the sideline, working over players. In this regard, he is a true pupil of his college coach Roger French, who would do the same thing.
In their world, there’s a great contrast between yelling at players to be physical one moment, and jockeying with guys carrying notebooks, pens and recorders the next. The dissimilarity is not lost on Anae/French, and they can’t help but tweak it.
“He was working them all the time, and I’m not talking just about the coaches but the players,” said Poppinga. “He was on those dudes non stop on the sidelines and I was like ‘oh, my gosh, he’s just after them.’ But that’s what the players need and that’s what our team needs now, to be pushed to the limit until they start pushing back.”
Poppinga said when Anae pushes BYU’s offense, it sends a signal to the defense that the offense is delivering up just as much sweat. It forges respect.
“It’s putting us in better condition than we’ve been in our lives. I’ll say this, in eight years here, we haven’t had this many plays run against us at this point. It is so fast, it’s fun and it’s putting us in a tempo that we’ve never seen before.”
What is a work in progress for Anae has already been dictated to BYU’s defenders in how they’ll practice. In that regard, it is working.
“ Ultimately,” said Poppinga, “when we get into the season, it will slow down a bit until we play an up-tempo team, but it is fun to watch those guys run a play every 15 seconds and see how our guys react to it.
“Are they going to continue playing physical? Are they going to continue with their effort? Are they going to continue with their assignments?
“If they can play with all those things, it will put us in a position to play even more dominantly next year (on defense).”
And so went the Blue-White game for 2013.
Mendenhall concludes spring drills this week.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.