BYU football: Robert Anae returns to Provo with a chip on his shoulder

Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall obviously has nothing to prove when he brings the Cavaliers to Provo on Saturday to face a BYU football schedule he has guided for 11 seasons and produced 99 wins and 11 bowl appearances.

But his offensive coordinator probably feels like him.

It would be Robert Anae, the former Cougars offensive lineman who served as Mendenhall’s CO during two stints at Provo. Anae believed he should have been named to replace Bronco after he left in 2015, but athletic director Tom Holmoe has taken a different direction instead.

The job went to Kalani Sitake, who was actually more successful at BYU in terms of wins and losses than Mendenhall in Charlottesville, albeit against a smaller string of opponents overall. Sitake is 44-28 at BYU; Mendenhall is 36-34 years old in Virginia.

Kick-off is at 8:15 p.m. MDT on Saturday, and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN2.

Anae was not made available to non-local media this week, but he clearly has an ax to beat against the school he played in for four years (1981-84) and coached for 11 years – first as an assistant graduate in 1990-91, then as offensive coordinator of 2005-10 and again of 2013-15.

And it brings an offense that’s strong enough to do it.

Led by sensational junior left-hander Brennan Armstrong, hands down the best quarterback the Cougars will face this season, Virginia is at or near the top of many offensive categories across the country.

“Yeah, they’re really good,” BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said on Tuesday. “They are obviously well trained, have a lot of good players. Robert Anae did a wonderful job with them. With where they’re at, what kind of stats they’re showing, how many points they’re racking up, it’s a really, really tough offense to prepare. We have our work cut out for us. “

Quarterbacks coach Jason Beck, running backs coach Mark Atuaia and offensive line coach Garett Tujague have followed Mendenhall and Anae to Virginia and are still there and valuable staff, Mendenhall said on Monday when he spoke for half an hour with Virginia and Utah Media.

“I invited 14 families or individuals, and all 14 accepted,” Mendenhall said. “At that time we had the most grandchildren in college football. So it was Lewis & Clark’s giant reverse migration.

“I’m grateful they all came,” Mendenhall continued. “They’re my friends. And I think it’s pretty rare in college football that you get to work with people you’re friends with. I consider myself lucky.

Virginia is No. 4 in total offense, averaging 539.9 yards per game. He is No. 1 in opening tries (27.6 per game), No. 2 in passing offense (404.6 yards per game) and No. 16 in scoring offense (37.6 points per game).

“Their attack is really effective,” said BYU defensive end Pepe Tanuvasa, the Navy transfer. “I don’t remember the stats they released last week, but it was crazy yardage. … This is something you dream about when you are a child, facing an offense like this. These are the games you want to play the most.

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong struggles during the game against Duke at Scott Stadium on Saturday, October 16, 2021 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The double-threat quarterback leads the country in passing yards, having made 64.2% of his throws for 3,220 yards and 23 TD.
Mike Caudill, Associated Press

Armstrong, who initially enlisted in Minnesota out of high school in Shelby, Ohio, was seen as a major recruiting coup for Mendenhall and Anae when he signed in 2018, and he kept that promise. The double-threat quarterback leads the country in passing yards, having completed 64.2% of his throws for 3,220 yards and 23 touchdowns.

“I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head,” Tuiaki said when asked if Armstrong reminded him of other QBs BYU has faced recently. “He’s really good. It is really effective. He has a phenomenal arm. He does things with his legs. I don’t want to do him a disservice by comparing him to someone who takes away his talent. He’s a very talented person.

Armstrong is No.2 in passing yards per game (402.5), No.5 in passing touchdowns and No.2 in total offense (424.6) with a passer efficiency rating of 154 , 1.

“We have a big challenge ahead of us,” said Jacob Boren, BYU nickel back. “They have really good wide receivers in particular. So this week we really need to be up to speed on our technique and our covers. Practices are really important.

One of those great receivers is Dontayvion Wicks, who has 38 receptions for 847 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s the No. 10 nationally for yards per game. Running back Wayne Taulapapa, a single BYU rookie, is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

“Very explosive team, especially on the offensive side,” Sitake said. “They are the top or top of a bunch of categories offensively in college football. And they are well supervised.

Tuiaki and Sitake are familiar with Anae’s offenses, having faced them multiple times when they were in Utah and Anae was at BYU. In fact, Tuiaki speaks of Anae in a reverent tone.

“He’s an OG in this game,” Tuiaki said. “I’m just a little chewing gum guy, trying to get up and trying to be like him.” In Polynesian culture and the community, we all admire those guys who have been in the game for so long. This is how I feel for Robert Anae.

Anae was a member of BYU’s 1984 National Championship team. He was somewhat of a conundrum in Provo in his second stint, setting up a quick attack that he called “Go Hard, Go Fast” and calling on Tujague to instill more tenacity in the offensive line. Some of his interactions with the media were friendly and gracious; other times he was critical and caustic.

So when it came time to pick Mendenhall’s replacement, he was never seriously considered. Navy Ken Niumatalolo, Sitake, Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson and NFL offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (now with Jacksonville) were the main names that surfaced.

But now he’s back, at least for the weekend.

“Looking at what Coach Anae did with that attack, they’re on top. They’re scoring lots of points. They’re getting lots of yards. They are very difficult to defend. They use so many different guys in so many different ways, ”Sitake said. “He’s evolved and now uses so many guys. He’s always done that, but yeah, they’re spreading the ball all over the place, man.

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