PROVO — Over the course of four decades, BYU built its national reputation on the strength of its prolific, pass-happy offense.
But last season, the Cougars’ strength was definitely their defense, which ranked No. 3 in the nation. Meanwhile, the offense sputtered and struggled to produce touchdowns on a consistent basis.
BYU’s victory over San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl last December was emblematic of the 2012 campaign. Star linebacker Kyle Van Noy did what the offense could not by scoring a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The school once known for its quarterbacks has been receiving considerable recognition for its linebackers. Somewhere, Ty Detmer is shaking his head in disbelief.
Well, coach Bronco Mendenhall, the mastermind of BYU’s defense, decided to overhaul the offense by replacing the entire offensive coaching staff, headlined by the return of Robert Anae as offensive coordinator.
As the Cougars open fall camp Saturday — with the season opener set for Aug. 31 at Virginia — all eyes will be on the offense.
Will Mendenhall’s changes pay dividends?
Anae is confident that he can return the Cougar offense to glory.
"We’re looking forward to living up to the BYU brand of offense," Anae said at media day in June. "BYU’s got a national brand, and I would like to live up to that."
The Cougars, who are looking to bounce back from a mediocre 8-5 season, face perhaps their toughest schedule in history, with games against opponents like Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
Here are five storylines to look for at BYU’s fall camp:
Anae not only brought with him from Arizona a new offensive scheme, but he also branded it like a marketing genius. Within seconds of Anae uttering the "go fast, go hard" mantra for the first time, T-shirt makers went to work.
But will this offense work?
This fast-paced, high-tempo offense requires all of the players to be on the same page at all times. The Cougars are hoping to snap the ball 80-90 times per game, which means players will need to be physically, and mentally, ready. It usually takes time to install any offense. With this one, the learning curve is even steeper.
And, remember, this offensive coaching staff has never coached an official game together.
The good news for BYU is, it has plenty of experienced players and playmakers returning, including wide receivers Cody Hoffman and JD Falslev, running backs Jamaal Williams and Michael Alisa, and tight end Kaneakua Friel.
At the core of any successful offense is an offensive line. The big guys in the trenches must execute their assignments and set a tone.
While the Cougars return two players with significant experience — left tackle Ryker Mathews and left guard Solomone Kafu — there are many questions marks on the offensive line.
First-year O-line coach Garett Tujague has a tough task ahead of him. Eight new offensive linemen are joining the program, including a handful of junior college transfers. Not only will those players be adjusting to major college football, they will be adjusting to a fast-paced offensive scheme.
Among the newcomers are Brayden Kearsley, Edward Fusi, De’Ondre Wesley, Tim Duran and Josh Carter. Depending on how fall camp goes, they could be household names around Provo before the season even starts — given all the attention that will surely be paid to them.
As a freshman last season stepping in for injured quarterback Riley Nelson, Hill showed signs of his potential.
A freak knee injury at the end of a win over Utah State ended his season. But Hill, who was named the starter after spring drills, has said that he’s healthy, ready to go, and eager to take the reins of the new offense.
But is Hill prepared for the rigors of being BYU's starting quarterback, and all that the job entails on and off the field?
In the spring, Hill was somewhat limited in what he could do. In fall camp, observers will get a better look at his capabilities.
A year ago, Hill completed 42 of 71 passes for 425 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing 55 times for 374 yards and four TDs.
Hill’s backup, Ammon Olsen, who also turned in an impressive spring, suffered a knee injury in the spring game. The injury did not require surgery, and Olsen is said to be healthy.
The Cougars’ vaunted defense from a year ago was led by Van Noy, who decided to return for his senior season.
Still, BYU will be replacing several other key players at linebacker, on the defensive line and in the secondary.
At boundary cornerback, Trent Trammell was the favorite to be the starter, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the spring. That means Mike Hague, Skye PoVey and JC transfers Sam Lee and Robertson Daniel are vying for the position that was filled by Preston Hadley the past couple of seasons.
The departures of Romney Fuga and Ezekiel Ansah leave a big void at nose tackle and defensive end, respectively. But the Cougars return a number of talented players up front, including Bronson Kaufusi, Eathyn Manumaleuna and Remington Peck.
Uani Unga, Tyler Beck and Manoa Pikula are expected to bolster the linebacking corps after the graduation of Brandon Ogletree and Uona Kaveinga.
Inconsistency on special teams has been a source of frustration for BYU the past couple of seasons.
Missed field goals and errant extra points have haunted the Cougars (including a last-second field goal attempt that smacked the upright and prevented BYU from forcing the Utah game into overtime in 2012).
Senior placekicker Justin Sorensen, who has been beset by injuries since he arrived on campus, is looking to close out his career with a strong senior season. However, unlike past years, Sorensen has some competition. Walk-on Tyler Jackson and JC transfer Trevor Samson will do their best in fall camp to take Sorensen’s job.
At punter, the Cougars lose Riley Stephenson, who had a stellar season in 2012. His replacement is expected to be Scott Arellano, a JUCO transfer.