Call it the science of hog warfare.
BYU’s offensive line coach Mike Empey had a choice to make when the Cougars broke camp back in August. He could train all his guys and divvy out playing time, building with experience and dealing out playing time in chunks and pieces. Or, just go with his best five and ride them all the way.
He chose to ride his best hogs to the end because the team needed it.
Three of those starting seniors, center Tejan Koroma, right guard Tuni Kanuch, and left guard Keyan Norman, will play in their final game in LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday against UMass. The two other tackles, Thomas Shoaf and Austin Hoyt, are veterans who have melded the unit into one of the most consistent parts of BYU’s offense that has struggled this season.
“I’ve appreciated our seniors all year long, they’ve been dependable and reliable,” said Empey of his three seniors.
“The caliber of the teams we’ve played this season including a Wisconsin team that could play for the national championship and the others have been across the spectrum. You aren’t going to make big holes and create huge seams when playing a Big Ten team like you would when playing maybe somebody else. But they’ve been consistently good at working on the things we’ve asked them to do and being very physical. They’ve led the offense very well. That seniority and consistency have led the way. “
Empey said he has leaned hard on BYU’s three seniors all season and without any of his starting five, the entire unit would have faced bigger challenges. “But they’ve come through and I couldn’t be more proud of them. We are going to miss them.”
A week ago, his offensive line helped Squally Canada rush for more than 200 yards at UNLV, one of the top-10 rushing games in school history.
What of his decision to go with a “main five” all year?
“There was a lot of inconsistency in our offense this year with different quarterbacks, different running backs, and receivers getting hurt. Multiple injuries at so many positions made me think that to create the most consistency on offense, we had to give the offense the best I could all the time.
The main backups are three freshmen: Chandon Herring, Austin Chambers and James Empey, along with Kieffer Longson and redshirt sophomore Addison Pulsipher. Notre Dame transfer Tristen Hoge is redshirting after leaving South Bend.
“Fortunately, they’ve been relatively healthy almost the entire time and that has provided some consistency for our running backs to get used to and our quarterbacks something they can get used to and try to help bring the other groups along.”
Empey said this is the way it was at BYU under Roger French. Empey played in the '90s and earned All-America honors as a Cougar offensive lineman.
Speaking of his playing days under French, Empey said:
“The ones were the ones and they played all the time unless a game got out of hand or there was an injury. The ones were the unit and there aren’t mixes and matches out there. Where we didn’t have anyone who was an equal like I said last year, if all things are equal, I like rotations. But when things aren’t equal, I have those who are consistent who I trust and they are my first unit. I have some really young guys who I want to get in if I can but we haven’t had a lot of those games.
“I’ll have to get experience for the younger guys when I have opportunities or in the spring. I think it is really important for an offense like ours to get better over time and have something to hang your hat on.”
The Cougars will give freshman walk-on QB Joe Critchlow his second career start against the Minutemen. The Cougars should be able to move the ball. The big challenge will come on the defensive end where UMass has been able to move the ball and get receivers involved for big gains.
Now, on to this week’s picks:
Wisconsin 31, Michigan 27: Badgers love a grind-it-out game.
Central Florida 38, Temple 27: UCF going to 10-0, baby.
Miami 38, Virginia 24: Bronco meets big-time resistance.
West Virginia 33, Texas 28: Not enough Longhorn defense.
TCU 38, Texas Tech 27: Gary Patterson’s got it figured out.
Fresno State 34, Wyoming 21: Quarterback play the difference.
Arizona State 24, Oregon State 21: Sun Devils more consistent.
Notre Dame 38, Navy 28: Fighting Irish rebound after Miami beatdown.
Utah State 27, Hawaii 17: Warriors find going tough in Logan.
Arizona 42, Oregon 34: Wildcats more explosive.
Southern Cal 28, UCLA 21: City fight goes to Trojan defense.
Stanford 37, Cal 21: Cardinal flexing after winning over Washington.
Washington 28, Utah 21: Just what Pac-12 experts are sayin'.
BYU 31, UMass 28: Only if Cougars find a pass rush.
Last week: 6-6
Overall: 89-43 (.672)