"Nasty" O-line

FRANCHUK: O-line looks better, nastier as necessary changes made

2012-09-29T00:40:00Z 2013-11-06T21:45:27Z FRANCHUK: O-line looks better, nastier as necessary changes madeJason Franchuk - Daily Herald Daily Herald
September 29, 2012 12:40 am  • 

One of BYU's new offensive linemen in the rotation has been riddled by injuries in his short college career.

So, Famika Anae just happens to be in the heat of battle on two plays — in the first seven minutes of Friday night, mind you — that send a couple of Hawaii players off the Cougar football field with intense amounts of medical supervision and gadgets.

Sensitive to the situation, making sure to say the right things (or more importantly, not the absolute wrong things) BYU offensive line coach Mark Weber couldn't stop smiling about the performance. Tough and nasty, and not just his group.

Sure, the defense was rarely challenged. It allowed zero points.

The offense could also do what it wanted, when it wanted, how it wanted — and BYU posted 47 points.

But what Weber, fellow coaches, players and a crowd of around 62,000 saw at LaVell Edwards Stadium saw was a whole different mindset from a group of blockers that had been beleaguered over the past two weeks. False starts. Penalties. Miscommunications. Savaged quarterbacks. Losses.

At least on this night, that changed. Big time.

"I loved the way they played," Weber said a while after the game, changed into a pair of old blue jeans that probably hadn't felt so comfortable in a while.

After some soul searching, and some really meager performances the past couple of games running and passing, Weber made three distinct switches in the depth chart. It wasn't all his group's fault, of course. But everyone knew an overhaul of sorts was in order.

Anae moved into the left guard spot. Braden Hansen, who had never snapped the ball before, shifted from left guard over to center. Manaaki Vaitai saw reps at right guard.

Weber also found playing time for Solomone Kafu, who had been listed as the second-stringer at right tackle behind Braden Brown.

It all added up to BYU getting a couple of 100-yard rushers in the same game for the first time since 2006. How long ago was that 52-7 pasting of UNLV? Well, Curtis Brown is long graduated. But Mike Hague is now playing defense, albeit injured right now.

Weber called Anae, in his first start, "tough and nasty, and he changed the mindset of our offense."

He was part of a clean football play that nearly created what could have been a devastating life injury, though X-rays reportedly came back with no major damage. 

The second situation, Anae delivered a helmet to a UH helmet that could have potentially been called for an unnecessary hit, though all that was called was holding on a teammate. It also involved a stretcher, but initial reports were positive for the UH player.

For Anae, his time has been hard to come by because of health and development. He's lost practice and playing time to an Achilles injury and a knee issue. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall was frank in saying that understanding roles and coverages is still a work in progress, though he raves about his mindset and potential.

"He was just playing hard," Weber said. "He was pumped up; having fun. The guy loves football."

That Anae's involvement is linked to helping a struggling offense is kind of amusing, considering a few years ago his father, Robert, was run out of Provo from the offensive coordinator job at BYU. 

The Cougars needed some serious tweaking again, and it included the O-line. Though freshman Taysom Hill's first start at quarterback, thanks in part to Riley Nelson's still-ailing back, was joined by a greater participation from Jamaal Williams in the backfield.

It has not been an easy time for Weber, who's been doing this for about three decades and knew some heat was on from the outside. He says he doesn't read local coverage, or go seeking out opinions, but "I've been around long enough."

He said his group was excited, ready to get going for Utah State next Friday.

Weber, who choked back some emotion when asked how tough the last couple of weeks have been — the sacks, the poor pass protection, all of it — sounded more relieved than anything.

"It was just fun to see the guys play that way," he said.

There was some ineffectiveness that forced all of this drama, and the injury to potential center Houston Reynolds eased in the addition of Hansen, who looked crisp in his first work getting the ball to Hill after Blair Tushaus has struggled. 

Weber compared the shift to moving Dallas Reynolds to center for his senior year (2008), even though he had never done that before. "Braden was way into it," Weber said.

Weber had no trouble saying the issues among the group were more about attitude than execution. 

He saw changes coming, even well after August camp, based on development and opportunity.

Now was a good time, right?

"Sometimes it's just getting the right personalities in there together...somebody might show athleticism, but somebody else might have that 'it' factor. It's like a quarterback, really," Weber said.

Ah, yes, the quarterback. It always comes back to that guy around here, somehow. Where to go moving forward?

On the record, I'll say that I still think it's Nelson's job to lose. He's got a lot of capital built up in the program. I think he'll get a chance to show it was a bad back that hurt him, and that he can get better. He'll have to be much better. Fast.

It's a big stretch of games coming up, with Utah State, Oregon State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech on the way. Hill was very good against UH, but it was still UH. He also finished strong at Boise State in the 7-6 loss, but it's tough to say if that's enough to demote Nelson the rest of the way.

What we'll probably figure, based on health or ineffectiveness, is that Nelson's "hook" will come a lot faster if he's not getting it done. Hill, though against a really bad defense, showed some speed that could merit him getting stronger consideration. 

Hill's youth and inexperience remain concerns from teammates, at least based on conversations with some earlier in the week. Maybe that's changed some after a longer look. 

The broad relationship with Nelson is stronger, if only because he's been around longer — even if it's not the best approach. It is a big decision for coaches.

But maybe, just maybe, Hill or Nelson will get some better blocking from now on and make the whole thing run better.

"It wasn't just what they did. It was how they did it," Weber said. "Those guys really got after it."

It, finally, being the end zone on a steady basis.

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