Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Offensive lineman Tristen Hoge poses for a photo at BYU's indoor practice facility in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018.

PROVO — Offensive lineman Tristen Hoge believes BYU’s offense is headed in the right direction entering next week’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Western Michigan in Boise.

All the lifting, the work spent avoiding pre-snap penalties, the managing a lineup through injuries, and almost registering an upset of Utah in the season finale at Rice-Eccles Stadium are his markers.

Hoge believes the Cougars have bought into what head coach Kalani Sitake is doing, and going to Boise for a postseason game is far better than having a season end with no bowl game at all. A year ago, December was all work but with no bowl. It stunk.

“We want to play for him. We want to win for Kalani,” said Hoge, who sees a program filled with young players eager to push things forward.

“Having been at Notre Dame and seen how things are done in other programs, he’s asking us to do things no other program requires. That is to take much more personal responsibility, to act like members of a family and to better ourselves on and off the field as men. Yes, I believe he is the right man for the job and the one to take us to the next level.”

Hoge said it was no fluke that BYU led Utah 20-0 and 27-7 late in the third quarter on Utah’s home field. It is progress over a year ago.

“We started that game against Utah like we are capable of doing," he said. "That was a product of what we worked very hard all season to achieve, and it came as we built on one thing after another. We came out believing what we could do and in what we had worked for and we were confident in ourselves.”

“Now, we just have to be better at winning those games.”

“The thing is, we did not win that game and that is the bottom line,” said tight ends coach Steve Clark. “We need to win.”

The injury to utility back Matt Hadley in that Utah game is a setback, but not something that can’t be overcome, said Hoge. Lopini Katoa, who did not play in that final game, is expected to return to the lineup with Squally Canada.

“We will miss Hadley, he had a great season and a great game," Hoge said. "He was coming on and it is sad to see that he won’t be playing in this bowl game. We have all the confidence in our younger players who will be ready. It truly is a case of next man up. Our freshmen are working hard and they will make a difference in this game."

BYU's opponent, Western Michigan, has the Cougars' full attention. The Broncos are a team that defeated Northern Illinois, eventual conference champion, and a team that beat the Cougars and led Utah late in during their game in the Midwest.

“They are a very good team,” said Hoge. “Their defense is smaller than some teams we played this year but they move around a lot and try to make you think harder about what you are doing. They are a team to be respected.”

BYU’s offensive line features three freshmen in Brady Christensen, James Empey and tackle Keanu Saleapaga. It is a unit that led the Cougars to wins over Power 5 opponents Arizona and Wisconsin. The 27 points scored against Utah are more points than what Colorado (7), Oregon (25), UCLA (10), Arizona (10), Stanford (21) and Washington (21 and 10) scored against the highly touted Ute defense during Pac-12 play.

Hoge said in the team room, offensive line coach Ryan Pugh has given the unit positive feedback.

“Pugh praised us for our work this season and the progress we have made," he said. "He speaks to us about how proud he is of what we have accomplished and he is excited to see how we build for the future.

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“In every program you have players who haven’t taken flight and are not giving all they have, but I really think at this stage in the season, our players on this team believe in the coaches and what they’re trying to do.”

True to his roots as a native of Pocatello and Taysom Hill country, Hoge doesn’t hesitate to sell the bowl game to those considering the trek.

“Idaho is a great place and Boise is a great city. I grew up with the Potato Bowl and I’m excited to be playing in it, no question.”

Bake 'em, fry 'em, or make them into hashbrowns, Hoge will take his state’s famous brand of vegetable and the bowl game named in its honor — however served.

He’s going home.