PROVO — For the better part of a year, buzz words from BYU coaches have hung heavy in the air whenever they've been asked about their offensive line: "It’s a work in progress."
So far this season, the O-line has looked like puzzle pieces, shakes of the dice, a chess game and the baby step shuffle. Indeed, it's kind of been like placing a bunch of objects in a hamster wheel and spinning them around.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall and offensive coordinator Robert Anae both say they’ve witnessed progress in recent weeks, but there have still been a lot of whiffs, missed assignments, questionable efforts, injuries, rotating lineups, challenges to compete, and advocacy to be more physical. When in pass pro — a formation with a loaded backfield to help pass block — backs are missing shuffle blocks and pickups.
Offensive line coach Garett Tujague has navigated all this like Horatio Hornblower.
While speaking about quarterback Taysom Hill, Anae said that until 10 other guys do their job, he can’t fully do his.
The 3-2 Cougars, who host Georgia Tech Saturday for homecoming, have started the same four offensive linemen in consecutive games just twice in five games. You saw the same five guys against Texas play in the next game against Utah.
At left tackle the Cougars opened up at Virginia with Ryker Mathews, then Michael Yeck replaced him for the next three games until Brad Wilcox started there against Utah State. So three guys have started at that position.
At left guard, the Cougars started Solomone Kafu against Virginia, then brought in Manaaki Vaitai to start there the next two games. But Kafu returned to man that spot the past two games, wins over Middle Tennessee State and USU. So three guys have started at that position.
At center, Terrance Alletto has championed that spot in every game and nobody has started over him since Virginia. It is the only O-line position that has not switched starters.
At right guard, Brock Stringham started at Virginia. Mathews replaced him against Texas and Utah but Kyle Johnson took over against Middle Tennessee and USU. So three guys have started at that position.
At right tackle, Yeck started at Virginia, Stringham replaced him the next two games, then De’Ondre Wesley started the fourth game (MTS) before Yeck stepped back in against Utah State. So three guys have started at that position.
Wesley and Stringham, unable to be part of the mix against USU, have been cleared to play against the Yellow Jackets.
Then, players like freshman Brandon Kearsley have seen playing time.
Yes, it takes a spreadsheet to keep track of it all.
Early this week, Alletto, the one player who’d never traded time at his center spot, missed practice when trainers held him out of practice. He may or may not play against the Yellow Jackets.
Sound like a mix-and-match deal?
“It’s one of those things that we’ve just had to adjust on the run,” said Anae.
Thus, this position group really is like a hamster wheel.
This week’s predictions:
Oklahoma 34, Texas 21: The Sooners take advantage of a pressure-filled Mack Brown staff.
Texas A&M 38, Mississippi 24: Johnny Football is on a roll since Alabama.
LSU 28, Florida 17: Tiger defense takes control of the game.
UCLA 31, California 21: The Bruins continue a nice run through Pac-12.
Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 24: Badgers win this one in the trenches.
Georgia 33, Missouri 21: Bulldogs are simply more talented top to bottom.
Boise State 24, Utah State 17: Aggies rally around circumstances and defense rises, but Broncos take advantage of no Chuckie Keeton.
Stanford 31, Utah 21: Cardinal is too disciplined and talented to falter in Rice-Eccles.
BYU 28, Georgia Tech 17: Bronco loves to coach against the option.
Last week 6-2; overall 39-12 (.764)
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].