Eye on the Y: Why is BYU’s offensive line regressing? Quarterback change, quality of opponents have something to do with it.

Unit has taken a step backward last few games after starting the season with loads of promise

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU offensive line coach Ryan Pugh, shown here working with players during preseason camp, says offensive linemen continue to work hard despite some struggles the past few weeks

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Moments after BYU stunned Wisconsin 24-21 at Camp Randall nearly two months ago, coach Kalani Sitake raved about the strides his program had taken in the weight room. He even awarded the game ball to the Cougars’ strength and conditioning staff and said their work building up the offensive line in particular was praiseworthy.

Since then, however, the offensive line has seemingly regressed. The last two games have been especially troubling, as the unit gave up five sacks in the 7-6 loss to Northern Illinois and seven sacks in the 21-16 loss to Boise State.

The Cougars were able to run for only 93 yards against the Huskies and 113 against the Broncos. Promising drives have been killed by holding penalties and false starts.

“The frustrating part is we had played fairly well for seven weeks,” said offensive line coach Ryan Pugh. “In the past two weeks, we have regressed a little bit.”

Said offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes: “I think some guys are progressing in some ways, and maybe some are not. I don’t want to name anyone in particular that is or isn’t. But as a group, they aren’t playing well enough for us to win.”

What happened?

Grimes and Pugh said the obvious difference is the quarterback change; Zach Wilson took over for Tanner Mangum three games ago, and the offense has changed in some ways to take advantage of Wilson’s strengths as a runner. The offensive line is adjusting to that.

Also, the coaches credited Northern Illinois and Boise State for having outstanding defensive fronts that caused the Cougars some problems.

“Each week is a battle,” Pugh said. “It is big-time college football. Credit to Boise State. Those guys are on scholarship, too.”

Rest assured, Pugh said, the entire offense is working extra hard to get it figured out. Competition for the five starting spots is as heated as ever in practice. He declined to say if there will be any lineup changes for Saturday’s game against UMass (10 a.m. MST, BYUtv) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

“The thing that is hard at times is you don’t get to see all the hard work these young men put in each week, because Saturday is the test, and if you don’t play well on Saturday, it doesn’t seem like there is a payoff,” Pugh said. “We still have great young men that are doing everything we are asking them to do. They are working hard in the classroom, on the field, in the meeting rooms. They are preparing. They are the last ones off the field and the first ones on the field each day. And so I think if they will continue to work hard and focus on the little details and their technique, it will pay off for them.”

Rounding them up

In case you missed them, here are some of the stories, player profiles and columns the Tribune has brought to you this past week:

• The last time BYU’s No. 36 was in Provo, his name was D’Angelo Gunter and he was having trouble adjusting to college life and a different culture than the one he grew up in in Southern California. So he left. Well, he’s back, having realized that school and football are better than working. And he will start Saturday at UMass. Trib

• BYU probably bit off more than it could chew in its basketball opener, facing No. 7 Nevada on the road in Reno. The Cougars lost 86-70, but hung with the Wolf Pack most of the way. Trib

• A lot of publications had the news that Dave Rose signed a contract extension. Rose told The Salt Lake Tribune why it was coming last month. Trib

• If the Cougars could score touchdowns in the red zone, they would probably be 7-2 instead of 4-5. Freshman Zach Wilson is moving the ball between the 20s fairly well. Now’s the time to punch it in the end zone, as bowl eligibility is at stake in the final three games. Trib

• There was plenty of blame to go around after the Cougars blew their chance to knock off Boise State last Saturday, and the coaching staff shouldered a good portion of it. Trib

Views from elsewhere

• The Deseret News caught up with former BYU linebacker Francis Bernard, now a backup for the Utes. Dnews

• BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi suffered through some tense moments while replay officials reviewed his hit on NIU’s quarterback. The Daily Herald recapped his comments at a weekly press briefing. Daily Herald


The Brothers El-Bakri — fullback Brayden and defensive tackle Bracken — are two of the best quotes on the BYU football team this year. Here’s Brayden El-Bakri’s description of BYU’s last play at Boise State falling short:

“I mean, heartbreak. There’s no other way to put it. The fans and Cougar Nation, they are feeling just the way that we are. It is something you never think will happen after you get the ball back, you go all the way down there, and you are thinking, ‘It is in the bag. We got this. We have the plays that we need. We have practiced what we need to do and we are going to get it done.’ Then we didn’t get it done. Not being able to get it done is kind of like a stab to the back, like all your hard work was for nothing.”

Around campus

• BYU golfer Peter Kuest is on fire. The junior from Fresno, Calif., won his third tournament of the fall season Wednesday, claiming the Saint Mary’s Invitational at Poppy Hills Golf Course on the Monterrey Peninsula. Kuest shot a record 61 (10-under par) in his first round and set the 54-hole record with a 13-under-par score of 300. The Cougars entered the final round in first place, but had a rough day and finished second in the team standings behind USC.

• BYU’s undefeated women’s volleyball team is ranked No. 1 in the country for the ninth-straight week and remains the only undefeated team in the country. The Cougars play host to Santa Clara on Thursday and San Francisco on Saturday in their final regular-season home matches of the season.

• BYU’s women’s soccer team won the West Coast Conference championship and earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Cougars travel to Fort Worth, Texas, on Friday to take on TCU at 5 p.m. MST. The Horned Frogs tied for third in the Big 12, but were awarded a host site by the NCAA.