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Kragthorpe: BYU hoping to restore offensive line tradition
In a garage in Minnesota, Robert Anae and Garett Tujague unearthed treasures of BYU football history.
They discovered boxes of VHS tapes and binders filled with offensive plays and coaching instructions, saved for decades by Roger French, who coached them as BYU offensive linemen. Anae, now the Cougars' offensive coordinator, and Tujague, the line coach, spent roughly 24 hours over parts of three days in July watching film with French.
The experience "brought back a lot of great memories, and some bitter ones," Tujague said, smiling.
The three of them studied blocking schemes and techniques from the 1980s and '90s that enabled BYU's offense to thrive. It helped that Anae and Tujague played in front of quarterbacks such as Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer, but those lines were instrumental in the success of some of BYU's most prolific offenses.
In last Friday's 35-10 victory at Connecticut, a line that included two freshman starters — tackle Ului Lapuaho and center Tejan Koroma — performed solidly as the Cougars compiled 513 total yards. Quarterback Taysom Hill often ran successfully, but usually not out of necessity as the line protected him well.
"We have a lot of trust in those front five," Hill said. That allowed running backs to become part of the passing game, rather than staying in to block.
Anae said he's "never satisfied" with the offense's production, and more will be asked of the linemen Saturday. Texas should present more defensive challenges, with better athletes and more complex schemes than UConn.
"They're not going to sit there and take it," said BYU tackle De'Ondre Wesley.
Football keeps evolving offensively, with fast-paced approaches and other innovations. Yet the fundamentals of blocking haven't changed all that much over the years and elements of schemes from the previous century have modern application, as Anae and Tujague were reminded when they visited French.
He's a legendary character in BYU's football history, having usually lived in his office in Smith Fieldhouse during the season, rather than uproot his wife and family from Minnesota. Ex-BYU lineman Andy Reid, now the Kansas City Chiefs' coach, once labeled him "The Creature" in a Provo newspaper guest column, citing his facial expressions and intensity on the sideline.
Remembering that eccentric nature, French's former players were not surprised to find old 16-millimeter projectors and other artifacts in his garage in Maple Valley, Minnesota.
"He pointed us to a box in the garage, and we stripped down the whole garage," Anae said. "Man, it was unbelievable, watching those old [films], looking at those notes, those game plans. … It was good and refreshing to see some of the schemes they were doing and and the staff conversations they were having in the notes. It brought relevance to a lot of things that we're trying to do."
French, 82, a Minnesota High School Hall of Fame inductee, still coaches the offensive line at Minnetonka High School. His relationships with Anae and Tujague have reconnected him to BYU, where he worked under LaVell Edwards from 1980-2000. "It's fun to be part of it, through them," French said.
He's known to leave a series of 20-minute messages on Tujague's phone, evaluating the Cougar linemen. French's grades usually align closely with Tujague's.
Against UConn, "They did some good things," French said. "They could have done better, but they have a great quarterback."
That always helps. It's also true that an improved offensive line should help Hill look better this season.