BYU football: Much-hyped offensive line off to a disappointing start
Provo • Against Washington State and Weber State, the blocking was poor, especially up the middle and in the red zone. Against Utah and Boise State, the blocking and pass protection got a little better, but communication breakdowns and false start after false start exacerbated by two loud and disruptive crowds gave away points and doomed drives.
BYU's offensive line has struggled mightily through four games this season, one of the main reasons the Cougars are 2-2 when they easily could be 3-1 or 4-0.
The defense has held up its end of the bargain, ranking No. 7 nationally. With quarterback Riley Nelson's injured back and erratic play contributing to the line's problems, the offense simply has not met expectations, as the Cougars prepare to take on Hawaii on Friday (6 p.m., ESPN) at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
That after coaches and the players themselves promised a leaner, meaner blocking machine this season, having boasted about offseason nutrition, strength training and conditioning programs that supposedly would change the image of a BYU offensive lineman from a paunchy, slow, lumbering mass to attacking, sometimes nasty, well-conditioned athletes.
"Well, we are up and down," said BYU offensive line coach Mark Weber. "We've got new guys, and we are just working to improve. We are doing some things well at times. And we have had some breakdowns. So it has been good at times and bad at times."
The unit's depth suffered a big blow during the 24-21 loss when junior Houston Reynolds suffered an Achilles tendon tear and was lost for the season. Reynolds wasn't a full-time starter, but he could play either guard spot and center and was gradually getting more playing time.
Undersized sophomore Blair Tushaus beat Reynolds out in camp for the starting center spot, but his inexperience showed in the Utah game when he twice fired snaps back to Riley Nelson when Nelson wasn't ready. The first miscue almost cost BYU a safety and the second cost the Cougars a touchdown when Utah's Moe Lee returned the loose ball 47 yards for a touchdown. Then there were the seven false start penalties against the Utes, and the chop-block penalty against Boise State that probably cost the Cougars a touchdown.
"People sometimes get spoiled. It is called developing an offensive line," Weber said, while declining to discuss specific problems that surfaced in the Utah game. "And that's what we are trying to do. We would like to force improvement, and we will. There will be steady improvement and that's part of developing an offensive line."
With Reynolds out, Solomone Kafu suffering a hand injury in camp and possible starter Walter Kahaiali'i retiring from football and needing knee surgery, a unit that had plenty of depth a month ago is suddenly on the thin side.
Seniors Braden Brown (right tackle) and Braden Hansen (left guard) said it is impossible to simulate live game situations in practice and even in scrimmages in regards to playing in front of an opposing crowd, but both veterans said the Cougars were not prepared for what they faced at Utah and Boise State.
"This year, we have some guys up front that are young. It is their first experience with that kind of situation," Brown said. "We gotta do a better job of preparing for it, and a better job of being ready for those situations when they come, because we are going to have more of those situations here later on in the season. â¦ We need to start the game faster. We need to start more nasty."
Said Hansen: "We just didn't prepare ourselves for it, I think is the biggest thing. The first couple of games were at home, and the cadence was on the quarterback. It wasn't until before the Utah game that we started working on silent cadence. â¦ But we've made those changes, and we are ready for any stadium now. â¦ We have a good group. If we can just get more consistent, we are going to be good."
BYU's starting offensive line
Position Player Ht/Wt Year
Left Tackle Ryker Mathews 6-6/292 Fr.
Left Guard Braden Hansen 6-6/307 Sr.
Center Blair Tushaus 6-2/270 Soph.
Right Guard Brock Stringham 6-6/290 Soph.
Right Tackle Braden Brown 6-6/300 Sr.
Hawaii at BYU
P Friday, 6 p.m.
TV • ESPN