Revamped BYU Line Improved But Untested
BYU offensive line coach Mark Weber shuffled the deck with his offensive line before last Friday’s 47-0 win over Hawaii.
The coaching staff needed to do something after BYU was getting pushed around up front and having trouble establishing a ground game. The Cougars even had some difficulty getting a consistent push against FCS opponent Weber State.
Weber’s solution was to send center Blair Tushaus and guard Brock Stringham to the bench, and slide Braden Hansen from guard to center and bring in Famika Anae and Manaaki Vaitai to bookend Hansen on the interior of the line.
The result was that the Cougars rushed for 396 yards against the Warriors, the most in a game since 2001–the year Luke Staley won the Doak Walker Award and a scrambling Brandon Doman was the trigger man in Gary Crowton’s multiple offense. After not having anyone rush for 100 yards in a game this season, both Jamaal Williams (155 yards) and Taysom Hill (143 yards) cracked the 100-yard barrier vs. UH.
While the results were impressive, it’s important to note that they came against a decimated Hawaii defense that wasn’t very good to begin with. When two Warrior defensive tackles ended up in the hospital after encounters with Anae in the first quarter, a front seven that had surrendered 355 rushing yards to Nevada the previous week, could provide little resistance to the BYU ground attack.
Friday night’s game against Utah State (4-1) will be a much better barometer of how much improvement the offensive line has actually made. The Aggie defense is light years ahead of Hawaii. The Warriors are 106th in the nation in rushing defense, while Utah State checks in at No. 22. The Aggies are also 11th in the country in total defense giving up 281 yards per game (by way of comparison, the No. 5 BYU defense is surrendering 227 yards per game).
If it weren’t for a missed field goal at the end of the game at Wisconsin, USU would be coming into Friday’s contest undefeated. Against Montee Ball and the Badgers, the Aggies gave up just 234 yards of total offense and 156 yards on the ground. Against rival Utah, they gave up just 96 rushing yards to John White and the Ute offense, knocking White out of the game in the process.
And while the BYU run blocking appeared to improve, pass protection was still an issue. Weber’s line gave up four sacks against Hawaii’s hapless defense and freshman quarterback Taysom Hill was forced to escape the pocket in a handful of other instances when the protection broke down.
Pass protection usually comes along a little slower than does the run blocking for a new or revamped offensive line, so it wasn’t a big surprise that the BYU line fared better in the run game last week. However, there will need to be a big improvement in pass protection this week. It’s a good bet that Gary Andersen will look to bring pressure on the expected starter Hill in order to try to force him into making mistakes. The Aggies know that they will have their work cut out against the BYU defense and will need to create some short-field opportunities for their offense.
One other issue to monitor on Friday night will be the center snaps. Hansen turned in a solid performance in his first ever action at the center position, but some of his snaps in the shotgun were low. Taysom was able to pick them up off his shoe strings, but Hansen will need to clean up his execution against USU. A bad snap has already cost BYU a game this year when Utah returned an errant Tushaus snap for a touchdown in the Utes 24-21 win in Salt Lake City. A turnover in the center exchange could become a game-changer against Utah State as well.
Nelson’s Demise Greatly Exaggerated?
A internet rumor that Riley Nelson’s retirement from the game of football was imminent seems to have been off the mark. Nelson joked about the rumor with reporters after Monday’s practice, saying that he had to hustle off to his retirement party. However, it does seem likely that Nelson will spend his second game in a row as a spectator on the sidelines.
Riley has desperately wanted to play for a full game against his old school, but it doesn’t sound like it is in the cards for the senior. Comments from BYU coaches on Monday seemed to indicate that Nelson is not ready to play. Some have speculated that his injury consists of cracked vertebrae in his back. If that is true, then it could be a while before he is ready to see the field, and it’s entirely possible that he won’t heal in time to get back on the field before the season is over.