Provo • Having played left guard for BYU from 1989-91 before becoming a successful junior college football coach in California, the ever-positive Garett Tujague says he is “just living the dream” in his return to his alma mater as the school’s new offensive line coach.
Other people might call it a nightmare.
Not only is the offensive line Tujague inherited young and inexperienced, it has been decimated by injuries, which is actually a big reason why it is young and inexperienced in the first place. Probable starters Houston Reynolds (ruptured Achilles’ tendon) and Famika Anae (chronic knee problems) suffered career-ending injuries last season, leaving Ryker Mathews as the only full-time returning starter, and he’s missed games due to complications arising from double-hip surgery last winter.
Another offensive lineman who played a lot last year, undersized center Blair Tushaus, left the program to try and walk on at Arizona State.
It has left Tujague and offensive coordinator Robert Anae one heck of a rebuilding project.
No fewer than 11 players have started in at least one game this season, as the shuffling that began after the 19-16 loss to Virginia has pretty much continued throughout the first half of the season. Only once, in the 40-21 win over Texas and the 20-13 loss to Utah, have the same five guys started in back-to-back games.
Tujague said he’s never seen anything close to this kind of offensive line shuffling in his 21 years coaching football.
“I have also never been a part of an offense that goes this fast. I mean, my experience has been no-huddle, fast tempo, but this is [beyond that]. This is awesome,” he said, noting that the fast pace naturally calls for rotating more linemen during games. “We want to get guys in there who are fresh and can get after it.”
The latest offensive lineman hit with the injury bug is sophomore center Terrance Alletto, who has suffered from recurring neck stingers since the Utah State game and is doubtful for Saturday’s game at Houston. Junior college transfer Edward Fusi started at center in last week’s 38-20 win over Georgia Tech and will likely do so again, although true freshman Brayden Kearsley — who made his first career start at right guard against the Yellow Jackets — has also played some center this season.
Anae said he’s been in worse situations. The coaching staff saw this coming at the end of last season, and loaded up on juco transfers, including Fusi and 6-7, 330-pound De’Ondre Wesley, whom Tujague calls the most improved lineman on the team.
Both coaches said the unit has improved and progressed as a whole each game.
“We have more answers,” Anae said. “I have had years when we did not have more answers, and you just went with the guys you had. No, this is not the worst I have been associated with. I will say the guys are getting better. … We are all in this together, and I do see us getting to be a more consistent, explosive and exciting offense than we have shown.”
More help is on the way. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday that 31 players who are currently on church missions will be returning between now and next fall — “the most maybe in the history of college sports” — and Tujague said several are talented offensive linemen.
“We are making the very best out of the situation we have,” Mendenhall said.
BYU’s offensive-line shuffle this season
Opp. LT LG C RG RT
Virginia Mathews Kafu Alletto Stringham Yeck
Texas Yeck Vaitai Alletto Mathews Stringham
Utah Yeck Vaitai Alletto Mathews Stringham
MTSU Yeck Kafu Alletto Johnson Wesley
Utah St. Wilcox Kafu Alletto Johnson Yeck
Ga. Tech Yeck Kafu Fu Kearsley Wesley
BYU at Houston
O Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • ESPNews