Cougars’ offensive line earns praise
BYU football • Unit’s turnaround was key to win over Texas.
Published: September 10, 2013 08:47AM
Updated: September 12, 2013 06:38PM
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Brigham Young quarterback Taysom Hill (4)celebrates with teammate Brayden Kearsley (55) in the first quarter during an NCAA college football game against Texas, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Provo • Cookies for everyone.

That’s how BYU’s offensive linemen and offensive line coach Garett Tujague celebrated Saturday’s stunning 40-21 win over Texas when they met in their own room Monday for the first time since the blowout at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

“Coach Tujague came in and said he wanted to keep the tradition going from when he was here [as a player],” said freshman guard Brayden Kearsley. “After the wins, they brought cinnamon rolls. We settled for cookies.”

To a man, the Cougars said Monday that the biggest reason for their win was the improved play of the offensive line, which struggled so much in the opener at Virginia, a 19-16 loss, that every starting job was opened the following Monday.

“It happens when players lose their jobs, and there is a sense of urgency,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Like any of us, you try harder when something you love is taken away from you.”

It was more of a shuffle than an outright replacement, because the only “new” starter against the Longhorns was senior Manaaki Vaitai, at left guard. Sophomore Ryker Mathews moved over to right guard, instead of left tackle, and guys such as Kearsley, De’Ondre Wesley and juco transfer Edward Fusi saw more time than they did at Virginia. Center Terrance Alletto stayed put but was relieved by Fusi, while tackle Michael Yeck and switched sides and performed admirably and Brock Stringham more than held his own while moving from guard to tackle.

“So, different combination of guys out there, who earned those spots,” Mendenhall said. “It could happen again, but there is no entitlement, and there is no tenure, so to speak.”

How much better was the offensive line against Texas than it was against Virginia? Even former, legendary BYU offensive line coach Roger French was impressed.

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae said French called him Sunday to offer congratulations.

“He said it was the biggest transformation from week one to week two that he’s seen in his career as a college player and coach,” Anae said.

The Cougars ran 99 plays, picked up 550 rushing yards and posted 679 yards of total offense, although Anae said they didn’t discuss goals before the game, especially not how many plays they wanted to run.

“You know, we try to go as fast as we can,” Anae said. “We are trying to go as hard as we can. At the end of the game, I heard it was 99 [plays]. There was no discussion, no strategy as to 99, 95, 92, 120.”

Vaitai said hearing how bad they were for a whole week after the Virginia game motivated them.

“There was a lot of talk last week about how the offensive line was soft, didn’t come off the ball, wasn’t able to move,” he said. “We played with a chip on our shoulder.”

If there was a sour side to the offense’s performance, it was that quarterback Taysom Hill completed only 9 of 26 passes, with an interception and no touchdowns through the air. Hill said he knows his completion percentage will have to improve from 33 percent if the Cougars are going to succeed, especially now that film of what he did to Texas with his feet -- 17 carries for 259 yards and three TDs -- is out there.

“If you want a good completion percentage, that starts with protection,” Anae said. “And then it peels off into your wide receivers getting open. And then the last of that puzzle is the accuracy of your quarterback, and we are still in the beginning stages of that. So to put the whole kit and kaboodle on Taysom Hill is unfair. It is putting the cart before the horse.”

The Cougars have a bye this weekend, so they will focus on player development and fundamentals through Wednesday, then put in the game plan for the Sept. 21 game against Utah in on Thursday and Friday. Mendenhall is giving his players the weekend off.

drew@sltrib.com

Twitter: @drewjay

Utah at BYU

P Sept. 21, 8:15 p.m.TV • ESPN2