Our schedule is pretty tough, but with this new coaching staff and this new offense, we’re going to be pretty dang good. A lot of these teams are going to have to look out for us. —BYU sophomore offensive lineman Ryker Mathews
PROVO — There’s a grueling schedule, a new offensive coaching staff, a new offensive approach, a relatively inexperienced quarterback, and two new starting cornerbacks.
Yes, this season features plenty of uncertainty for BYU.
The Cougars open with games against Virginia, Texas and Utah, and the schedule doesn’t get easier from there, with difficult contests against the likes of Utah State, Georgia Tech, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
Plus, coach Bronco Mendenhall overhauled his offensive staff, hoping to jumpstart an inconsistent offense, highlighted by the re-hiring of offensive coordinator Robert Anae. Sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill is the starter with two career starts under his belt, and he’s coming off a season-ending knee injury. And in the offseason, the Cougars lost both projected starting corners, Jordan Johnson and Trent Trammell, to season-ending knee injuries.
Yet this is the kind of challenge the BYU football program, entering its third season of independence, is looking forward to tackling.
“I’m way excited,” said sophomore offensive lineman Ryker Mathews. “Our schedule is pretty tough, but with this new coaching staff and this new offense, we’re going to be pretty dang good. A lot of these teams are going to have to look out for us. I think we have the potential to win most of our games. We’re not expecting anything less. I can’t wait until the season starts.”
Anae spent the previous two seasons at Arizona, where he honed his skills as an offensive mind. His job is to breathe life into an offense that has largely struggled since 2011.
What are the expectations of this fast-paced, go-hard-go-fast offense?
“Just score a ton of points. That’s what Coach Anae did at Arizona,” Mathews said. “That’s our expectation now. Yeah, our O-line is a little young, but we’re starting to pick up this offense. If we do get that confidence and swagger that (offensive line) Coach (Garett) Tujague is trying to instill in us, we’re going to be pretty dang good, and score a lot of points.”
Mendenhall can attest that this up-tempo offense can be difficult to defend. He faced it nearly every day of fall camp.
“There’s elements of option football, there’s elements of BYU’s old passing attack and then there’s stuff in between,” Mendenhall said. “If you tilt your defense strategy toward any one of those components, you get big plays out of it. I think it’s very effective, at least with us trying to defend it.”
Mendenhall said he expects opposing defenses to have a tough time defending the new Cougar offense.
“If someone’s trying to do that in one week’s time, I think it’s going to be pretty hard.”
Of course, BYU’s new offense will impact the Cougar defense, which ranked No. 3 in the nation last year. BYU’s "D" will play a lot more snaps, up to an extra quarter of football per game, Mendenhall said.
“The coaches have done a good job of rotating us,” said safety Daniel Sorensen. “It definitely puts pressure on us as a defense to get lined up, to make the right call, to stay in shape, and to be able to outlast that tempo and speed. What’s helped us practicing against it is the fact we’re all on the same page. You have to think fast and communicate fast. When we play a team that’s not up-tempo, we’ll have more than enough time to think, make our calls, make adjustments, and we probably won’t be running as much. It helps out a ton. It’s probably the best thing for us, getting us ready for the season.”