Kaneakua Friel, Devin Mahina and the BYU Cougars must have been pleased after walking off the field last Friday. They knocked off Boise State for the first time in program history, accepted a bowl invitation and added another victory to a previously four-game winning streak.
But Friel and Mahina had another reason to be happy—it seemed that the tight end position was back in business at BYU. The pair of bruisers caught seven receptions for 93 yards against Boise, and although those numbers aren’t extremely flashy, consider that they combined for only three catches and 41 yards in the first seven games.
“At first it was hard for me to stay engaged because I wasn’t getting the ball,” Friel said, via the Deseret News. “Through the first two weeks of the season I just told myself that I still have a responsibility and I need to be grateful for what I do have and for what I’ve been doing in the game. I think as I’ve improved with that, that things have started coming my way.”
You can’t blame Friel. He caught 30 passes for 308 yards in 2012, and was second on the team with five receiving touchdowns. To go from a huge junior season like that and then to barely be targeted as a senior has to be rough. Respect is due to Friel, and Mahina, for hanging in there when not much was going for them.
At least some of their work has paid off, but will it continue? Robert Anae’s current offensive system seems to use tight ends as blockers more than receivers, but that could change. In the past, Anae found his most success with great Cougar tight ends including Jonny Harline, Andrew George and Dennis Pitta, so why wouldn’t he try to execute now in the same fashion?
Perhaps the high-octane, fast-tempo strategy is made to tailor wideouts only; but that can be fixed. We saw against Boise what some balance between wide receivers and TEs can do, so why not continue that?
It is logical to have Friel and Mahina, along with others, in the game to block in rushing situations. But their roles should not be limited to blazing the way for running backs, especially when they have the skill sets to be great receivers.
Wisconsin is up next for the Cougs, and we will learn very quickly if BYU’s passing game is as good as we think. The tight ends could play a big role if given the chance, and that opportunity could be coming.
Please, Anae. Please.