PROVO — Robert Anae likes to keep it simple.
He's returned to his role as BYU's offensive coordinator with some simple ideas, concepts and demands of players. He throws out the mantra to “go fast, go hard.” He envisions BYU’s offense operated by better-conditioned athletes capable of breaking the will of more talented defenders.
That’s a big can of whip rump to serve.
We shall see if his guys can actually deliver it.
At BYU football media day last week, as Anae finished one interview and awaited another, I found a symbolic moment with BYU’s offensive coordinator. Call it a snapshot of what Anae stands for, what he demands, and is pushing BYU’s offensive line to do.
In the main hall of the BYU Broadcast Building, Anae stood alongside a series of giant posters of BYU All-American quarterbacks frozen in time by shutter and film.
He pointed to the poster of All-American QB Robbie Bosco, who led BYU to an undefeated season and the AP and UPI national championships in 1984. Bosco and Anae were teammates on that squad, which defeated Michigan in the Holiday Bowl as Oklahoma, Washington and South Carolina failed to garner enough votes in the final college football poll to overtake the Cougars.
Said Anae: “See that jersey? See how white his uniform pants are? Can you see one, even one grass stain on his uniform? No, you can’t. It’s clean as clean. He isn’t even sweating. Do you see any sweat on his forehead?”
He was enjoying the moment, laughing a little — but not too much to hide the fact he was serious as a sunburn.
Anae then made this proclamation: “Robbie had eight seconds to throw the football.”
That, in a nutshell, is Robert Anae.
And that, if you whittle down BYU football in 2013, is the program’s greatest task: providing sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill enough time to throw the ball. After two years of injured offensive linemen — thus injured QBs — and a shallow O-line talent pool that didn’t allow BYU to conduct meaningful spring scrimmages, improving BYU's O-line is head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s largest mountain to climb during the next 62 days before the Cougars open at Virginia.
Thing is, Anae has little idea of how players are conditioning this summer. NCAA rules tell coaches and schools everything they do depends on the athletes, but you can’t peek in on them or supervise their time during the offseason.
It’s like turning kids loose in a safe full of money and advising them to use it wisely.
Anae’s task is not only to build back the talent pool and acclimate eight new O-line recruits, but replace very sophisticated line call assignments with a more simple zone blocking scheme. Plus, he needs them to play fast — and outlast defenders.
Some former BYU linemen have suggested the zone blocking is simply too simple and may not work.
I asked Mendenhall if that were so, and how monumental Anae’s task was this spring and fall.
“It’s big” admitted Mendenhall.
“There’s an analogy to help understand the framework I’m talking from,” he said. “When LaVell Edwards chose to throw the football when other teams were running it with better people, that was a great equalizer.”
Mendenhall said when BYU played teams that didn’t have as much talent as he thought his team had defensively, opponents changing the tempo had a neutralizing effect on the game.
This spring, said Mendenhall, while Anae’s rebuilding was happening, the tempo itself and how hard his offense was going put a strain and a chaotic effect on his defense.
“It was really hard to manage. I think it will be a great equalizer and become a competitive advantage for us because what I saw in spring and what I saw in visiting other teams that go up-tempo, we are going faster than anyone else I saw.
“In order to do this you need great conditioning. But what if, as we’re doing this, the talent at some spots may not be as good as we’re building it, but they are better conditioned, know their assignments better, and will try harder longer? My guess is, under that tempo and chaotic atmosphere, that rebuilding will show dividends quicker than realistically would have been expected.”
As a defensive coach, what about the simplicity of facing this new zone blocking scheme?
“We couldn’t stop it this spring and it wasn’t because we didn’t try,” said Mendenhall. “As a program, we chose not to play some of the better players, but every day our defensive staff was trying to figure out how to stop it and we didn’t have much success.”
That, said Mendenhall, is the greatest predictor so far of why he feels confident in Anae’s offense. “We couldn’t stop it, not consistently. I like that — the respect that generated between offensive and defensive staffs and players.”
Mendenhall said Anae’s offensive players worked harder and longer than the defensive players last spring, and when that happened, it had immediate impact on his entire team.
In short, Anae is trying to create something a little new, something valuable, something that did actually work with Rich Rodriguez at Arizona in his first year in Tucson when Rodriguez retained Anae after a coaching change.
Anae is applying his own eight-second symbolism through his personality, which does have an edge akin to a bush machete.
It’s simple. No grass stains on the QB.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].