Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson is brought down by Boise State Broncos linebacker Curtis Weaver during NCAA football in Boise on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.
PROVO — The last position group to leave the practice field after Tuesday’s football practice at BYU was the offensive line — and for good reason. Dissatisfied with their collective performance in a 21-16 loss to Boise State the group is putting in more work with competition ratcheting up as both players and coaches are anxious to turn things around.
“It’s not unusual for us to finish out practice as the last group to leave, but yeah, we’re definitely focused on getting the work in because of last week. There’s a sense of urgency,” said BYU offensive lineman Tristen Hoge. “We absolutely want to improve because we didn’t get it done last week. We have to get better, but we all know we can better and we’re working hard toward that.”
The problems the offensive line is working to fix isn’t specific to just one area, as the unit saw struggles establishing a productive rushing attack, with pass protection and with incurring unnecessary penalties. The good news is both coaches and players believe the problems are entirely fixable within a group that starts three freshmen.
“I think it’s youth. I think we have talented guys, but they’re still learning,” said BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. “We’re at the point of the season where you would like to say no one is a freshman anymore, but when you’re matching up a guy who is still in his first year…there’s a difference there.”
Translation: The offensive line is still learning how to block for first-year quarterback Zach Wilson, who has brought a different style of play and mentality to what the offense experienced under senior Tanner Mangum. All of the adjustments have seen a lot of good moments, but enough subpar moments to put the team on the losing end more than coaches would prefer.
According to Grimes, had the offensive line not allowed the sacks it did against Boise State, BYU would have likely won, and probably more than by just one score. Overall the offensive line yielded seven sacks against the Broncos, with several of them short-circuiting scoring opportunities, most notably the final push toward the endzone as time expired.
A lot of the frustration with the offensive line play is perhaps due to the perceived regression of player performance from the first half the season, where BYU’s relatively young offensive line was the star unit on the team. Some of that has to do with adjusting to the offense that has undergone noticeable changes with Wilson starting as opposed to Mangum, but also due to other circumstances.
“I feel we just got too complacent as a group and too comfortable. We started taking our play and preparation for granted too much,” Hoge said. “It’s not that we stopped working, but maybe just got too comfortable. Things are adjusting on offense and it’s our job to keep up with it and we didn’t do it nearly well enough last week.”
Coaches have maintained throughout the year that competition for starting spots is open from week to week, although there’s been just one significant change within the starting offensive front this season. That change came with freshman Keanu Saleapaga taking over at left guard for Thomas Shoaf, although Grimes indicated other changes may be coming as the team prepares to take on Massachusetts.
“Coach (Ryan) Pugh has given a bit more competition this week,” Grimes said of how his offensive line coach is managing things. “We’ll make our decisions as the week goes on.”