BYU football’s season opener is less than one month away, and the offensive line’s ability is still one of the biggest questions about the team’s preparation.
The importance of the offensive line cannot be overstated. Football games, in essence, are won in the trenches, and if a team can’t win the battle up front, its chances of winning games diminishes.
At one point, the Cougars’ offensive line was typically one of its strongest position groups. From 2005 to 2010 under offensive coordinator Robert Anae, they performed provided excellent pass protection for the quarterback and blocking for the running backs.
But last year’s unit appeared to be overmatched in most contests, and sometimes lacked in grit and toughness. It wasn’t uncommon for the offensive line to leave quarterbacks scrambling and running for their lives, making it difficult for the Cougars to execute an effective passing game.
New offensive line coach, Garett Tujague, has been entrusted with getting the group back to where it needs to be so the offense can perform and reach expectations.
“Actually we’re doing really well. I love the effort that the guys are putting in,” Tujague said. “With my background being able to get players going as fast as possible — being at a junior college for so many years — I think is going to help us. Getting our terminologies as quick and precise as possible. I like our chances. I really like our chances.”
The offensive line returns two starters, sophomore Ryker Mathews and junior Solomone Kafu, who will be essential anchors on the front line this season. Kafu and freshman Kyle Johnson will play the two guard spots, but Brayden Kearsley, a highly touted freshman, is expected to push them for playing time.
As part of a group of eight incoming offensive linemen, Kearlsey looks to make an immediate impact. He, along with the eight other Cougar rookies, will be key in strengthening the offensive line and getting the unit back to its former glory.
It appeared to many that veteran Manaaki Vaitai, a senior, would be the starter at center going into the season, but sophomore Terrence Aletto impressed the coaching unit in camp and has taken the starting role.
Anae is somewhat unsure of what to expect from the offense, particularly the offensive line, but he should have a clearer picture after the Cougars open against Virginia on Aug. 31.
“It’ll be almost like Christmas day,” Anae said. “I don’t know if you’re nervous when you’re opening presents — I never felt that way — you’re just kinda anticipating as you looking forward for something wonderful to happen when you open that thing and look in there. I hope that’s how we approach it and that’s going to be my intent.”
According to Anae, the offensive line is all about being cohesive and working together. The Cougars’ blocking scheme has been simplified this season to help facilitate Anae’s “go fast, go hard” offense.
“It’s a team effort with our players. It’s a team effort as a staff. That really comes into play during hard times,” Anae said. “We are going to prepare ourselves — as a group, as a staff, as a unit, with us and our players — to prepare for a tough road. We are not preparing for easy games.”