PROVO — Going into the 2011 season, BYU's veteran offensive line figured to be one of the strengths of the team.

But the Cougar offense has struggled, and the O-line is shouldering part of the blame. Coach Bronco Mendenhall said this week that he would like to see more physical play out of the offensive line.

"They're doing a really nice job in pass protection. What we're not doing as well is knocking opposing fronts off the ball and then running for power," Mendenhall said. "The combination of either running backs having to run for more power and/or offensive linemen coming off and blocking to create more push is something that we have really focused on. We simplified the run game last week. I think we saw signs of that improving. It's going to have to keep doing that."

BYU enjoyed its best rushing performance of the season last week in a 24-17 win over Central Florida. The Cougars gained 127 yards on 32 carries and scored their first two rushing touchdowns of the season.

Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman was thrilled with the progress in the run game a week ago and he's looking for continued overall improvement Friday against Utah State.

"If we execute (the fundamentals) well, we'll be hard to stop," he said. "That's blocking, ball security and a simplified plan that we execute very well. If those three things occur for us on Friday night, we'll be hard to stop."

AN IN-STATE BATTLE: The Cougars know they're in for a tough game against the Aggies, who defeated BYU last year in Logan, 31-16.

"I think it's going to be a flat-out physical battle on Friday night," Doman said. "It just might be the last man standing out there on the field. That's what makes it fun."

Doman compared Utah State's defense to Utah's. "They're very opportunistic. Very similar mindset and they come from a similar background," he said. "Their kids play hard. The whole team is playing hard."

WACKY: While BYU is an independent, it will face five Western Athletic Conference teams this season. The first is Friday against Utah State, followed by next week's contest against San Jose State.

BYU finishes the regular season with three consecutive games against WAC foes, at home against Idaho and New Mexico State and on the road against Hawaii.

KARIYA HONORED: BYU running back Bryan Kariya was named one of 127 candidates for the 2011 National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete Awards.

The Cougar senior has a 3.9 GPA and is majoring in Chinese with a minor in business management. Kariya rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown last week against Central Florida.

email: jeffc@desnews.com