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BYU football offensive line gears up for another test, this one from Arizona State

By Jared Lloyd - | Sep 17, 2021
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BYU offensive linemen prepare to run a play during the 26-17 Cougar win over the Utes at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (Courtesy Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)
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BYU offensive linemen prepare to run a play during the 26-17 Cougar win over the Utes at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (Courtesy Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)
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BYU offensive linemen prepare to run a play during the 26-17 Cougar win over the Utes at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (Courtesy Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)

It wasn’t that long ago (2018) that Blake Freeland was a quarterback and tight end as well as the center on the basketball team at Herriman High School.

Less than a year later, he was starting on the BYU offensive line as it faced No. 14-ranked Boise State and helped the Cougars shock the Broncos.

Fast forward to the present and you’ll find a Blake Freeland who knows how little he knew two years ago.

“It’s night-and-day difference,” Freeland said during a teleconference on Wednesday. “I’ll see film from that game and I’m just shaking my head, thinking, ‘what am I doing out there?’ I was just running around getting in front of people that game. Now I know what I’m doing.”

Freeland is now BYU’s start left tackle, a crucial position for both run blocking and protecting quarterback Jaren Hall’s blind side. As he looks back, he credited the help of coaches like Jeff Grimes, Ryan Pugh, Eric Mateos and now Darrell Funk for molding him into being a lineman.

“It was really weird at first, coming here as a former quarterback/tight end/defensive end type guy,” Freeland said “I think having the coaches we had my first year was really great for me. They pushed me really hard and they were super-picky, which is really what I needed. I think they helped turn me into what I’m becoming now. I’m still trying to grow every day.”

Freeland’s story is not unique in the BYU offensive line room. There is little doubt that each Cougar athlete on that unit has improved and become more confident in their craft over the last few years.

That has clearly shown on the field on gameday, particularly on Saturday against rival Utah as BYU tallied 219 yards on the ground.

“It was a crazy game,” Freeland said. “I’ll give credit to the Utah defensive line. They were tough and physical, and we knew that they would try to stop the run going into the game. We just went out and did what we were supposed to do.”

BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick talked about how the Cougars were determined to lean on the guys up front and continue to pound the ball throughout the game.

“You can’t beat the Utes with finesse,” Roderick said. “I coached there 12 years and saw it over and over. Teams try to run the ball, Utah stops the run, it makes the opponent one dimensional, the other team reverts to the pass, the pass rush gets going and that’s when the turnover-fest starts. That’s been their formula to win forever so we knew as a team going in that we were not going to fall into that trap. We were going to run the ball for four quarters and stick with it. It worked — but that’s not the same plan we want to use every week.”

BYU’s next opponent, Arizona State, took note of how the Cougars were able to move the ball against the Utes.

“Everybody has wars individually but these guys play together,” Sun Devil defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez said earlier this week, as reported by Chris Karpman at SunDevilSource. “I have a lot of respect for how Utah coaches their defensive line. They do a great job. People think they (BYU) just beat them (Utah) up and they (the Utes) were soft. They weren’t soft. They (the Cougars) run what we had to go up against every single day with (former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator) Gary Kubiak, and it’s that flat zone stretch that just makes you run. I don’t care how big you are, I don’t care how physical you are. You have to move your feet against them.”

Rodriguez said the Ute defenders weren’t getting “pushed around;” they were getting “run around.”

“You’re making these big guys that are used to having their feet in the ground, they have to move,” Rodriguez said, according to Karpman. “You’re catching them when they’re high hipped and running to the sidelines. That’s why I always talk about good feet with my lineman. They (the Cougars) get you moving so quick, and they’re so disciplined, it is hard. You have to set anchor points and you have to be extremely diligent in your technique and in your leverage points. If you can’t set anchor points, these dudes will just wash you, find the seam, get vertical, one cut, and they’ll run you out of the gym.”

The BYU offense, for its part, knows that it is going to be facing a battle when it takes on the Sun Devils.

“They are really good,” Roderick said. “They are similar to Utah athletically. They have great skill at the back end and are big and physical up front. It will be a big challenge to stay focused. We have a lot of people telling us how good we are right now, so we’ve got to manage that and be ready to play again.”

No. 23 BYU vs. No. 19/21 Arizona State

TIME: 8:15 p.m. MT

TV: ESPN

WHERE: LaVell Edwards Stadium

THE WORD: This will be the 28th meeting between BYU and Arizona State with the Sun Devils leading the series, 20-7. BYU won the last time the two teams played, a 26-6 victory in Provo in 1998. … This is the third of five times BYU will play an opponent from the Pac-12 in 2021 (the Cougars beat Arizona and Utah and also face Washington State and USC). BYU is 76-129-6 against current Pac-12 teams. … This is the first time since Utah in 2009 that two ranked teams are facing off inside LaVell Edwards Stadium, when BYU was No. 18 and Utah was No. 22 in the AP poll.

BYU is 4-2 in its last six games against ranked opponents.

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