PROVO — Trench work counts.
Foundations may be boring, but they’d better be good.
That’s why there’s no bigger factor for BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall this season than the development of his offensive line. That one factor alone will determine BYU’s wins.
In his heart, O-line coach Garett Tujague believes the Cougar offensive line has taken major steps forward over a year ago when coordinator Robert Anae brought in new offensive coaches, a new scheme and JC transfers were trying to learn the same lingo.
The O-line must be better if Anae’s plans are to come to any kind of fruition.
If the Cougar offensive line does not meet the challenge, Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams and all the nifty receivers that showed up this summer might have their moments, but they will be limited.
“We speak a lot clearer, we communicate a lot better than a year ago,” said Tujague of the comparison between last August and today.
“We have one word that means a sentence and we’re better at it. They know what to expect from me, understand me, know when it’s time to work and when it’s time to have fun. The chemistry is better than it has ever been and that comes with time. Last year we were trying to get kids to step in the right direction. Now, our schemes are more advanced.”
This is a unit that got a lot of criticism a year ago. Some deserved, some unavoidable, none of it taken with glee.
This is a unit that struggled to protect Hill and give him time to survey the field. It is a group that didn’t move the pile at times for Williams, struggled to maintain blocks, got caught out of position and struggled in the red zone to produce touchdowns.
Although BYU ranked No. 2 behind Texas Tech in number of plays run from scrimmage with 1,111, the Cougars averaged fewer points (30.1 ppg) than any team in the top 10 ranking of plays run except Rice (29.6 ppg).
The primary reason is that BYU was not very good in scoring position. Hill, Williams and Cody Hoffman could only do so much. The O-line needed to be better.
Tujague takes ownership of that issue. “It’s on us,” he said. “The red zone, the third-down passing, the scoring is all on us.”
He believes BYU is far more capable this time around because of better schemes, more experience and personnel. “Coach Anae already implemented phase one with better schemes and we’re on to phase two.”
Those phases include a series of plays geared for scoring, then adding options off those base formations.
Tujague and Anae have worked hard at changing the O-line culture. They even summoned Mendenhall to help. Tujague praised the leadership of seniors De’Ondre Wesley and Brock Stringham.
The O-line coach describes the personality of the 2014 O-line as “hard-edged.” He claims the guys in his room will not be pushed around on the field without answering.
“We have different A-type personalities in that room and you’d better get yourself up," Tujague said. "They are learning that. Guys who are Silver Beavers in Boy Scouts, who’d never put a finger on or punch anybody, well, I’m not saying they'd be first, but if pushed, I want them to speak their mind, let them know in a respective manner that they will not be pushed around.”
During the fragments of fall practice that the media has seen, there’ve been plenty of “chippy” offensive linemen doing exactly that. They fight back.
“Some guys, I have to calm them down because that’s all they’ll do is fight, but I’d rather have them that way than have to rev them up,” said Tujague.
“We have great leadership. Their will and desire to be great is off the charts. Every time I or Coach Anae talks to them, they are waiting to listen with bated breath the words that are about to be cast upon them. They have done a great job of buying into Coach Anae’s philosophy."
And how do his guys ride this feistiness without getting booted out of practice or a game?
“It’s a good thing, but we don’t want it to overwhelm practice," said Tujague. "The way you get better is to play football. But we have a zero-tolerance — if you get pushed around, it is not acceptable.”
All is well in theory. The proof comes Aug. 29 in East Hartford, Connecticut.
Red zone acumen will be the measuring stick.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].