Although he played a significant role late in last year's game at Boise State, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill has never started in a college football game on the road. That will change Saturday when Hill goes under center against Virginia, with around 60,000 fans screaming, yelling and doing their best to disrupt the sophomore from Pocatello, Idaho.
Can he handle the pressure? That's the topic of this piece in today's Tribune. And here's a notebook primarily about the offensive line, and how line coach Garett Tujague plans to play all 11 offensive linemen who make the trip.
Hill was asked earlier this week whether he would rather start the season at home, or on the road.
"I would definitely say that [traveling early] could be a great benefit for us, as far as the unity goes," he said. "We talked about that as a leadership council today: what do we want to get out of traveling to Virginia? And that was one of those things, to be a unifying experience.
Playing on the road creates some unique challenges. It would probably be easier starting at home, but that's not what we scheduled, and we are up for the challenge, and we have some plans that we can do to overcome the noise, if that is a factor. We will be OK."
BYU will become the first team from the West to play at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville a second time, having won 38-35 in overtime there in 2000, LaVell Edwards' final season.
"I don't know [if playing two time zones away will affect the team]," Hill said. "I haven't experienced it yet, so I didn't travel with the team when they went back East [Notre Dame] last year because of the [knee] injury, so it will be a first for me. Leaving Friday morning, that will give us some time to get it under our belt."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said Wednesday that "there is always uncertainty" going into a season opener and acknowledged that he's really not sure how good Virginia will be, or how good the Cougars will be, for that matter.
"I don't think I absolutely know anything about [BYU's] team, until we play a game," he said. "I think they will try hard. If I had to say what do I most likely know -- I would say it is that. Where the execution sits -- who will make plays, how they will make plays, how they will come together -- I don't think I've known that at the beginning of any season. And I feel the same right now."
Mendenhall said Virginia is very much a mystery team, aside from personnel, because so much of the coaching staff is new.
"Don't know what the matchups are like, so you prepare the best you can, and then hopefully our staff is capable of making whatever adjustments we need, based on what we see that are unexpected," he said.
I am not able to bring you video of coach Bronco Mendenhall's post-practice address to the media on Wednesday. However, here's a transcript from the rather short session:
On what they did Wednesday and will do Thursday:
"Shorter, recovery-oriented, assignment-oriented [work]. Similar format tomorrow, with the intent to get our team as fast, and as healthy, and as recovered and assignment-sound as possible.
So I think the format has been good, I think the preparation has been solid. Next, we will just have to play, and see where we are."
On the injuries and what happens if another guy goes down:
"We have to be ready to not only make schematic changes, but also, the thinnest position we have right now is at corner, so almost every other position we could handle an injury, or two. At that position [cornerback] we are pretty thin."
On whether other guys have stepped in at corner and shown promise:
"Sure, Rob Daniel has really done a nice job. I am very confident with his development, having not seen him play a game yet. But in watching practice, I really like that. And we have seen two freshmen enough -- Dallin Leavitt and Michael Davis -- to where I know what they are like in practice. Sometimes that is different when they don't have anyone out there coaching them on each play, and the pressure of having to make assignment choices on their own. But ability wise, I am very comfortable with them."
On what he's learned about making a long trip out of the gate like this:
"I know we've won six of our eight openers, and I know that we have done a nice job after byes, and in bowl games, with a number of wins, etc. and preparation.
I am not so sure it is the type of trip [that matters], but hopefully we have used the time to prepare. I think that's what I have focused on, and I am not sure it matters how far we go, or where we go, if the preparation has been solid. I think to this point it has. I need to see tomorrow, to be sure."
On his favorite part of road trips:
"That's an easy one. I love the firesides. I say that each time I stand up to talk at the firesides. I love that part of it. I love the sense of community, I love the sense of camaraderie, I like representing a larger purpose, or cause, and I like the feeling that is there. That would be first. The second thing is I love to watch our players try hard, and then have success -- not necessarily winning or losing. I love to see them go as hard as they can, and then see what that feels like.
I can tell, by the looks in their eyes when they come off, how that part is. I like the plane rides home when they have tried and given a lot.
I think those three things would be my favorites."
On how good the singing is at the firesides (seriously, somebody asked him about it):
"I think there is just one way to find out: show up. They are really good. There is usually a musical number by our team, a smaller group and then a larger group. Guys like Jamaal [Williams] that show up just because they want to be with them, I think that's really neat."
On the defensive line depth:
"So Marques Johnson is cross-trained. That helps quite a bit, so he can play end and nose. Logan Taele is cross-trained. And we just moved Sae Tautu from outside linebacker to defensive end. We like what we have seen from him."
On JonRhyheem Peoples status:
"Cleared to play. He was on the scout team today. But he will need another day there, and I wasn't convinced that, even though he was cleared, I am a little more cautious on that. So we will probably consider him for next week."
On Mike Alisa's readiness:
"He will probably get some touches. But to give you an idea, there were 20 minutes of Team [scrimmaging] today, and the offense was close to 80 plays. To keep up with that, you gotta be in great shape, and so I think what he is finding is that the time he was hurt during camp is going to take him a similar amount of time to catch up."
On using technology and how that is going:
"I think we are doing a phenomenal job. I am not sure there is a program that is being run more effectively, and efficiently, with use of technology, than us. The speed in which we are able to use practice film, in real time, to make adjustments not only on the field, while we are coaching, but after, I don't think anyone does it better.
When we were with Pittsburgh this summer, they were amazed at what we were doing, and wanted to use that technology, and just couldn't believe what advantage it gives us. And without sharing any more, which I won't, I think we are doing a really nice job with it."
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