Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust

The traditional wide-open and pass-happy Cougar offensive attack has taken on a new look in recent weeks. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae has ditched his traditional spread formations, opting for the power-I and subsequently more runs than he ever has while at BYU. There are several reasons for this.

The Cougar offensive line is happy these days. Walking off of the practice field this week, Braden Hansen was grinning from ear-to-ear (as were others).

What has helped with Hansen's smile is the new direction the offense has taken, which has called for a lot of straight-ahead runs. While such an offense could be termed as being ‘boring' to the casual fan, that certainly isn't the case for an offensive lineman.

"Oh, we love it," commented Hansen. "As an offensive lineman, you love running the ball. I don't know of any of the guys who doesn't love it."

Instead of dropping back out of their stance on most occasions, the Cougar offensive linemen have lunged forward with just about every snap of the football. It allows them to impose their will in a very physical manner, pushing forward rather than protecting backwards.

There's a reason for it.

It's been no secret that the Cougar offense has been struggling mightily since the start of the season. No clear identity on quarterback management, a lack of plays made by the skill-position players, and being generally young at key positions have all contributed to the offensive woes.

The one position that has a load of experience and potentially great play is the offensive line. During fall practices, everyone labeled the Cougar ‘big uglies' as being the strength of the offense. So why not put the offensive load on them?

"We love having it all on us," said Hansen. "It's really all on us with how we've been calling games and coaches have mentioned that to us and we're great with that. It's what we want."

The offensive line play had been somewhat spotty in the early going, but has taken off in recent weeks. The change has come about through just greater focus and determination, according to Hansen.

"We expect a lot of ourselves and we didn't feel like we'd been playing as well as we could during the first few weeks," he said. "Now, with the new play-calling and just our attitudes, we've worked hard to get better. We're having fun and guys are really responding well to being able to run-block so much, and hopefully it continues."

The changeup has worked out great so far with not only productive outings against the likes of San Diego State and Wyoming, but also saw some good success against TCU during one drive during the third quarter.

"We all feel that when we line up and just go at anyone that we can beat just about anyone," said Hansen. "That's the attitude we have. We have tons to improve on, but we're happy with the progress we've been able to make."

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the new offensive approach is running back Bryan Kariya. Due to the power-I running game, his production has taken off over the past two weeks.

"I'm just glad to help the team wherever I can," Kariya said. "Sure, everyone likes to touch the ball and to make plays, but it's more important to all of us to win football games and to be put in a position to help our team accomplish that goal."

Kariya is quick to admit that his strength is clearly running the ball between the tackles, but that he struggles to go laterally. When running it out of the spread formation, his running style suffers.

"J.J. (Di Luigi), he's the guy that can juke guys in the open field and make guys miss," Kariya said. "I can't do that. So yeah, running it straight at people, that's what I know how to do. I know I don't have the quicks to beat them outside, so I just run as hard as I can and try to get upfield fast and aggressively."

Kariya is also quick to point out how effective his lead-blockers have been.

"Everyone focuses on us [running backs] and maybe a little on the offensive line when we run it well, but guys like Zed Mendenhall and Mike Hague, those guys have been awesome," he said. "I love their attitude; they're fearless. They go after their blocks so hard and it's hard not to take their lead with how hard they go."

So far the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach has worked like a charm, as coaches have done well to take the pressure off of a struggling passing attack. Eventually though, most expect things to change with regards to the offensive play-calling.

"You see guys getting more confident with any success we've had," noted Kariya. "Look at Luke Ashworth for example. He had a great game last week and it was big for him, his confidence and for the entire offense. Guys on this team will step up and I think you'll see more and more guys step up with every week."

Hansen too is confident that when or if Anae reverts back to a more ‘BYU-like' play-calling regimen, it will breed success.

"We have a ton of confidence in Jake Heaps and what he can do," Hansen said. "When it comes down to it, we're all about winning and what makes us most successful. Right now it's running it up the middle, but when it's not, we'll be more than willing to execute our best to make this team successful no matter what the coaches call."


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