Cougar offensive line settling down

After a dominating performance against Hawaii, a revamped Cougar offensive line looks to apply the same tough, physical style of play that was fielded against the Warriors for the game against the Aggies of Utah State this Friday.

There was a drastic change in the way the offensive line performed against Hawaii when compared to the previous four games. As Coach Mendenhall mentioned, the offensive line played more violent and nasty. Much of that came with the physical play of Famika Anae at left guard.

"That's just been my nature and that's all of our offensive linemen's nature," Anae said. "We just needed a little spark to get it out there. That's the only way I know how to play football and that's the only way I've ever played football, and it's just fun to be a part of that group and showcase that little chance that I got."

The addition of Anae at left guard and Manaaki Vaitai at right guard, as well as moving Braden Hansen to center, established a culture change up front that reverberated throughout the entire team. It was a change long overdue.

"I think the mentality change was needed and we know it all starts up front," said Anae. "The struggles that we've had the past couple of games, as an offense as a whole, we needed to get better, especially up front. We just have to get the ball rolling and we were able to do that and it was a lot of fun."

"It was so much fun and, you know, we made some changes last week and I think that helped," Taysom Hill said

The revamped offensive line started off a little slowly but soon found its rhythm. In the end, BYU's offense gained 396 rushing yards while producing two 100-yard rushers for the first time since 2006.

"There were little mistakes that we made but I think everybody grew together more and more and started working together pretty good with Braden Hansen's seniority," said Anae. "I mean, the guy's a senior and has been starting ever since [he was a freshman], and he just brought that poise and composure to the offensive line. He got us all on the same page and helped us young guys. It was good and he helped us a lot."

Hill agrees with Anae's assessment.

"Braden Hansen came in and did an extremely good job at center, and he's been a four-year starter," Hill said. "Anytime you put a four-year starter in at center, making calls and doing things like that, it really helped. They fired off the ball and were physical, and you saw that with Famika Anae who came out with guns blazing. It was fun playing behind those guys, and anytime you can come out and rush for nearly 400 yards, it's a tribute to the offensive line."

There were, however, some low snaps made by Hansen, but it's not something Coach Doman is too worried about.

"It was his first game and speed picks up and you're stepping and the ball comes out low," said Coach Doman. "I would rather the ball come out low than high, and right now they're not coming out high, so knock on wood that we'll keep them that way, but they're getting better every day."

Cougar fans can expect to see the same starting five from the Hawaii game – which also featured Ryker Mathews at left tackle and Braden Brown at right tackle – continue to start throughout the season.

"Yeah, as of right now it looks like that's the plan and it looks like it will be pretty consistent," Anae said. "I'll be at left guard and Braden Hansen will be at center and Manaaki will be at right guard. Then Solo [Kofu] will rotate through and we'll try and roll with that. It worked pretty good, so we'll see how it goes."

During fall camp, Anae, Hansen and Vaitai played together on the second-team unit. The three became very familiar with each other, so when the call for change was made, they were all able to step right in.

"It was me, Manaaki, Houston Reynolds and Braden Hansen at the beginning of camp, and, yeah, we were on the same group of offensive linemen since the beginning of fall camp," said Anae. "Me and Manaaki are used to Braden Hansen and we're used to playing by each other, and so it clicked. It made things a little easier and so it worked out."

Often when players demonstrate an abundance of dedication, coaches reward them with playing time. Could that have been the case with the new-look offensive line?

"No, I just think the coaches are doing the best that they can to make the best decisions," Anae said. "I think they saw it fit to make some changes and they did. It is what it is."

"We'll, there wasn't a culture of excellence in relation to sheer grit and determination in the way that they played," said Coach Doman. "We were getting out-physicaled up front, and we don't do a lot of things up there in the run game or in pass protection and we have a few different calls. But, we lean heavily on the offensive line and we weren't playing very well, so either you have to change what you're doing or change the people and we decided to change a few of the people around. We're going to have some hiccups along the way, but I think the changes created a different mindset for us.

"When we first started here, Coach [Mendenhall] had a theme: accountability, discipline and effort. He holds that defense to that standard. I don't know if our offense has been held to that standard quite yet. We're not going to do anything like the defense does. We're not going to be able to practice exactly the way they practice, but the accountability, discipline and effort, I want our offense to match the same type of physicality and intensity. We haven't quite matched that yet and I'm just being honest with you, but that's the goal. And when we do, we'll be pretty good."

Now the revamped Cougar offensive line will face a much tougher defensive front in Utah State.

"Hawaii is a really good football team, but I think Utah State is a really good football team as well," said Anae. "They're really physical, especially in the run game. It will be a good test for us. Those guys are really fast and really strong, so we're just excited to play them."

At defensive tackle for the Aggies is 6-foot-3-inch, 294-pound Al Lapuaho, the brother of BYU offensive lineman Ului Lapuaho, who is currently serving a mission.

At the nose guard position will be 6-foot-2-inch, 299-pound freshman Travis Seefeldt. The other tackle spot will be manned by 6-foot-3-inch, 271-pound Conner Williams, with 6-foot-1-inch, 258-pound Bojay Filimoeatu playing the outside linebacker/defensive end position.

"I know a couple of them and I know Bojay and Elvis [Matagi]," said Anae. "Elvis' dad is an O.G. [original gangster] Laie boy, and so we knew Elvis growing up over here.

"All those guys, and Bojay Filimoeatu as well, are a good physical team. It will be a good test for us, especially with us as a new unit. I'm excited man and I'm excited to bang heads like we know how to do."

During the Hawaii game, Anae literally did just that. He came in and banged some heads and, unfortunately, sent two Hawaiian Warriors out on stretchers.

"That was unintentional," Anae said. "We're just playing football and unfortunately that happens."

Anae did his best to take advantage of his opportunity last week, and will look to do the same against Hawaii.

"[I was] just moving and trying to make a play and help the offense, so I have to do what I can do keep myself on the field now that I've earned my way onto it," Anae said. "That's part of it being as athletic as you can as an offensive lineman, so I tried to take the opportunities as I got them."

Anae and his teammates will have a good test for them this Friday against the Aggies.

"I'm not concerned about our offensive line and I think they'll play well," said Coach Doman. "That doesn't mean that Utah State isn't going to win some battles, because they're going to win some. I'm sure they'll make tackles for a loss occasionally and that they'll play really well. Their defensive line is doing a great job, so we're just going to have to play well and if we make a mistake, move on. I don't think our team came out [on Monday] too concerned about anything else other than our football team having to do what we need to do, and we'll continue to have that mindset. If we do, we'll play hard."

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