Like the mesmerizing flame of a candle, the big offensive plays and sparkling numbers often draw all the attention of football fans.
But without the base holding the bright light aloft, candles and offenses don’t glow for very long.
The base for the BYU offense in Saturday night’s big 40-21 upset win over No. 15 Texas was its smashmouth blocking.
And while the Cougar offensive line rightfully gets much of the credit, it wasn’t the only unit who helped make the big plays possible.
“I feel confident in speaking for the offense that we are here ready and willing to do whatever it takes to win a football game,” said BYU sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill on Monday, who earned national attention and Independent Offensive Player of the Week honors for his 259 yards rushing the three touchdowns against the Longhorns.
“If you don't believe it, go watch the film,” he continued. “You look at a guy like Cody Hoffman who is an unbelievable receiver and watch the way he blocked downfield against Texas. That allowed us to rush for as many yards as we did. You talk to a receiver and they want to catch the ball. They don't get excited to go block downfield but that's what they were doing. That's our mindset and we're going to do what it takes.”
Tight ends coach Andrew George said Example No. 1 of that mentality might be sophomore wide receiver Eric Thornton.
“That guy plays harder than anybody,” George said. “As a little guy on the team, he feels like he can block anybody on the field. When you watch it, it's just unbelievable, some of the things that he does. I hope it rubs off on the rest of our team.”
And you better believe that even the big offensive linemen notice that type of effort from all the receivers.
“Everyone is blocking well,” said Cougar freshman lineman Brayden Kearsley. “We saw Skyler Ridley on film blocking downfield, running his tail off. I saw him blocking the biggest defensive end on the team against Texas. I have a lot of respect for all of our receivers. Cody Hoffman blocks hard, everybody blocks hard. I don’t feel like we’re intimidated by anybody and we’re going to block our tails off. That’s everybody across the board.”
Kearsley said that there is a snowball effect that starts to build everyone when players see others on the team giving that type of effort.
“We see the little guys trying to block the huge defensive ends, guys like Ridley and JD Falslev trying to block guys, that’s awesome,” the freshman said. “Then when they see 300-pounders running down the field, trying to get an extra push, they get jacked up too. If we just keep that as a team, we’re going to go far and be successful.”
That’s one of those mentalities that helps turn a five-yard run into a 15-yard run. Cougar offensive coordinator Robert Anae said the performance of the receivers helped set the stage for Hill and sophomore running back Jamaal Williams to chew up large chunks of real estate.
“Those long runs had a lot to do with how those guys were working downfield,” Anae said. “I look forward to them developing with the offense just as much as any position. I will say that their effort is getting better and we look forward to them playing harder and executing at a higher level.”
That was obviously something Mendenhall was pleased with, since he turned it into a joke with the media on Monday.
“We made a point of that on film today,” Mendenhall said. “Our receivers and running backs and offensive line were downfield. It would be a fun film for you all to watch if you could ever get access — but you won’t.”
In the end, however, none of the blocking downfield does much good if the guys up front aren’t taking care of business.
And the BYU offensive linemen certainly took care of business on Saturday against Texas.
“There is a tremendous story going on with the team and a big chunk of that is the offensive line,” Anae said. “I did receive a call from (former BYU line coach Roger French) over the weekend and he said it was the biggest transformation from Week 1 to Week 2 that he’s seen in his career as a college football player and coach.”
Mendenhall said a little harsh dose of reality got the Cougar linemen fired up.
“It happens when players lose their jobs and there is a sense of urgency,” the BYU head coach said. “Like any of us, you start trying harder if something you love is taken away from you. There was a difference combination of guys out there who earned those spots, which could happen again. There is no tenure, so that sense of urgency improved our play.”
Kearsley said the linemen developed an aggressive mentality and now want to keep that going.
“We really carried the hard edge with us,” he explained. “We took that to heart and we just played as hard as we possibly could. We’re going to keep doing that and we’re going to keep improving. We’re putting it on us. We want our running backs to fall forward on every single run they have. We’re going to block our tails off.”
George said the approach of just giving more effort made all the difference, in his opinion.
“I think the biggest thing was that we just played harder,” he said. “I don't think we executed all that much better. Our passing game wasn't better than the Virginia game. It was probably about the same. But we just played harder. As simple as that sounds, it's just the truth.”
BYU-Utah game time announced: The Cougars announced Monday that the contest against Utah at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Sept. 21 is scheduled to kick off at 8:15 p.m. MDT and will be televised on ESPN2.
Mendenhall quipped that he’ll have some personal preparation to do.
“It’s about 45 minutes before my bedtime,” he said. “I’m going to have to start training right now for it.”
Recognitions all around: BYU ended up sweeping the Independent Player of the Week awards.
Along with Hill’s honor, Cougar senior kicker Justin Sorensen was recognized as the Independent Special Teams Player of the Week and as one of three "Stars of the Week" by the Lou Groza National Placekicking Award presented by the Palm Beach County Sports Commission.
Sorensen hit four field goals (36, 34, 32, and 26 yards) while also making all four of his PATs against Texas. It was the first time a BYU kicker had made four field goals in a game since 2000.
Cougar junior linebacker Alani Fua earned the Independent Defensive Player of the Week award as he had seven tackles and two sacks in the BYU win.
BYU was also named the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week in an announcement made on Monday afternoon.
Other notes: Mendenhall said there were no further significant injury concerns after the Texas game.
He also commented on the decision made by Texas head coach Mack Brown to fire defensive coordinator Manny Diaz less than 24 hours after the loss in Provo.
“Head coaches have to make hard decisions,” he said. “I don’t think it was a one-game decision.”
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.