BYU Football: Why Doesn’t Cougars’ Offensive Line Live Up To The Hype?

BYU and Notre Dame will meet Saturday for the first time since 2013, the ninth-ever meeting between college football independents with religious property to be held in Las Vegas of all places.

But there is one member of the No. 16 Cougars, which has extensive history with the Fighting Irish – Darrell Funk, second-year offensive line coach. He was Michigan’s offensive line coach from 2011 to 2014 when the Wolverines and Irish met four times and every team won on his home field.

“Marcus (Freeman) is a really good coach. His kids play hard. You are healthy. Yes, they get hard. We know that. You have good people. They have good plans, good staff. They’re going to be everything we want them to be.” — BYU Offense Coach Darrell Funk

“So I’m 2-2 against them,” Funk said. “We’ve beaten them every two years with us, including Michigan’s first night game.”

Prior to that game, Michigan honored 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard, falling 24-7 behind and then bouncing back in the final 17 minutes as Funk’s offensive line took control and paved the way for three straight touchdown drives.

After Notre Dame took the lead with 30 seconds left, Michigan drove 80 yards and Denard Robinson threw a 16-yard game-winning TD pass to Roy Roundtree with two seconds left.

“That was great,” said Funk.

Is this BYU offense capable of similar production to Notre Dame at Allegiant Stadium?

Funk said the O-Line will perform better than it has in the Cougars’ last three games — a loss to No. 25 Oregon and wins over Mountain West members Wyoming and Utah State.

“They’re going to be just as good as Baylor and Oregon in terms of personnel,” said Funk, who has also coached at Indiana State, Purdue, Akron, Ball State and northern Illinois in the Midwest. “In all my jobs in the Midwest, I’ve always been in contact with Notre Dame recruiting, whether I was in Michigan and we were after the same people, or I was in Ball State and knew who they were recruiting. It does not matter. They always had guys who could play.”

Funk has also worked with Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame’s first-year coach.

“Marcus is a really good coach. His kids play hard. You are healthy. Yeah, they’re going to be tough,” Funk said. “We know that. They have good people. They have good plans, good staff. They will be everything we want. But I feel like we’ll be a good fit for them and our kids will come to play.”

Funk knows that if the 4-1 and No. 16 BYU wants to “upset” the four-point favorite Irish, she needs to get more out of her running game, especially in the first half. The Cougars started slow against Wyoming and Utah State; against Oregon, the running game never got off the ground because they were falling behind so quickly.

BYU’s offensive line should be a strength and has protected quarterback Jaren Hall well. But it is struggling with its barrel blockage.

“Of course we’re not where we need to be in the running game,” said Funk. “We did some pretty decent protection stuff most of the time. Run Game is where it starts and we had to look inside, look at some things.

“It all starts with me,” he continued. “I have to find ways to get advantage blocks, get people to the right people and you know when we did that we had times where we still broke down. And sometimes when we made it, we had a chance. But that’s where it really starts, the running game obviously needs to be more consistent.”

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick conceded that the running game can improve, but he said the entire offense needs to play more consistently and avoid the three-and-outs that have plagued them for the past three games. On the plus side, the Cougars take good care of football, having only made one turnover in five games.

“I think we play good football. We just want to be ready to play against a good team on Saturday,” said Roderick. “I’m not trying to bring up any blatant things. We just want to keep getting better and the most important thing is to keep caring about football the way we’ve always done it. That was the most important factor in us being able to stay in the games.”

Preseason All-America nominee Clark Barrington, BYU’s right warden, said the linemen are aware there is work to be done, especially in the running game.

Last week against USU, having minus 21 rushing yards in the first half “certainly wasn’t something we’re proud of,” he said.

BYU is 73rd in the country in rushing yards per game with 152.2. The Cougars average 4.8 yards per carry, which isn’t bad.

Funk has started the same five offensive linemen in all five games: Connor Pay at center; Clark Barrington at left guard; Blake Freeland at left tackle; Harris LaChance at right guard; and Kingsley Suamataia, at right tackle.

Campbell Barrington and Joe Tukuafu (once he recovered) rotated; Funk said redshirt student Brayden Keim is “really moving forward now” and could see more time.

“I said before the year that we would rotate seven, maybe eight people,” Funk said. “One of the things that comes with that is you might lose a little bit of continuity, but for me it was really just a guy standing up and playing like, ‘Hey, I’m indispensable. I can’t be taken out of a game.’ That means the other guys are either close to them or deserve a chance to show what they can do.”

He didn’t reveal which player cleaned, but it’s likely Freeland, the 6’8 junior, who could be BYU’s most draftable player next April.

“In short, after five games we’re not where we should be, but I think we’re really going to start. I think so,” Funk said. “…It’s a combination (of things) but we’re working hard to improve it. I’m confident that these kids are committed to that and I know that as coaches we’ve really looked at ourselves in the mirror and tried to put ourselves in the best possible situations.”

Cougars in the air

No. 16 BYU (4-1)

vs. Notre Dame (2-2)

Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MDT

Allegiant Stadium

Las Vegas, Nevada


Radio: KSL News Radio 102.7 FM/1160 AM

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