BYU coaches acknowledge the uncertainty about the offense's new direction.
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Charlottesville, Va. • Robert Anae leaned against a display case, wiped a little sweat from his brow and took a swig of diet soda a few days ago after practice before giving the go-ahead for questions.
"Fire away, guys," he said, seemingly as relaxed and at ease as he's been since football coach Bronco Mendenhall announced almost eight months ago that he was bringing back his former offensive coordinator to reprise the same role Anae had from 2005-10.
There was some symbolism in Anae's directive to reporters, however, because there might not be an assistant coach in all of college football as under the gun this season as the former BYU offensive lineman, re-hired to revive an offense that was once the benchmark for explosive football in the West, if not the country.
Anae's second stint this time he's armed with a rapid-fire attack he's referenced as "go hard, go fast " begins Saturday more than 2,000 miles away from Provo as the Cougars roll into Atlantic Coast Conference territory to test the Virginia Cavaliers.
The 1:30 p.m. MDT season-opener at historic Scott Stadium is expected to draw close to a sellout crowd of 60,000 and can be viewed nationally on ESPNU.
How will the Anae Era, Part II, begin?
Even BYU's coaches aren't totally sure.
Mendenhall and Anae both acknowledged there is uncertainty about their own team and their opponent, with so many new coaches at both BYU and Virginia.
"Usually you do your best when you are not playing hesitant, scared, so on and so forth," Anae said. "So that's what I am hoping. That's what I am preparing for, [in a] hostile environment. Prepare, and play your best, and as hard as you can, as long as you can."
And do it quickly.
It hasn't been a secret since early in spring camp that Anae's game plan calls for the Cougars and sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill to run off a play every 15-20 seconds, if they can.
"We are always trying to go faster, but my mentality is [such] that I don't want to jeopardize our execution," said Hill, who will be making his third career start (2-0), but first on the road. "I think there is a happy medium there. Let's go as fast as we can as long as we go through the right steps."
The Cougars are 6-2 in openers under Mendenhall, having won their last six lid-lifters, and most have been low-scoring defensive struggles. A similar tussle is expected in hot, humid Charlottesville.
"Oh, there is always uncertainty, just I am not sure how good they are. I am not sure how good we are," Mendenhall said. "Don't know what the matchups are like, so you prepare the best you can, and then hopefully our staff is capable of making whatever adjustments we need, based on what we see that are unexpected. And I think that's the same every year."
BYU's offense clicked the last time Anae was calling the plays, in a 52-24 romp over lowly UTEP in the 2010 New Mexico Bowl. But this one won't look anything like that one, when the less mobile, stronger-armed Jake Heaps was pulling the trigger.
Anae has asked for patience as he attempts to get the 2013 iteration up and running, often comparing what he's doing to running a marathon, and saying the Cougars are just getting out of the gates.
"It is kind of a hodgepodge of things," he said. "What you are going to see this season is kind of a new sort of deal. It has got elements from each coach on our staff. Each have contributed unbelievably. So it is like no other offense I have been a part of. That's all I can say about it."
Defensively, the Cougars could have their hands full with mobile Virginia quarterback David Watford, a sturdy serviceable running back, and some playmakers on the outside, defensive coordinator Nick Howell said.
"Our dudes are going to fight as hard as they can," Howell said. "Our defense is going to fly around as hard as they can. That's one thing for certain is the brand of football that our defense is going to play is going to be the same as it has always been, and we are excited."
BYU at Virginia
O At Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
Kickoff • 1:30 p.m.
TV • ESPNU
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • Season opener
Series history • Virginia, 2-1
Last meeting • BYU 38, Virginia 35, OT (Sept. 2, 2000)
About the Cougars • They are 7-12 against foes from the Atlantic Coast Conference, but defeated the ACC's Georgia Tech 41-17 last October in Atlanta. ... WR Cody Hoffman needs 538 yards, 19 receptions and three touchdowns to become the school's record holder in each of those categories.
About the Cavaliers • Coach Mike London has won all three of his season openers while at Virginia, which begins its 124th season of football on Saturday. ... The Cavaliers are 73-19-7 in home season openers. ... Junior RB Kevin Parks rushed for 1,433 yards in his first two seasons.