Junior Mario Yakoo last week became the fifth Boise State football player still on the roster to start a game at right tackle.
Perhaps the biggest Bronco can become the rock the team needs at that position.
Yakoo, who is 6-foot-4 and 329 pounds, had started 17 games at guard before coaches moved him to the outside to patch a hole that proved costly in the loss at BYU.
“We feel like Mario has great feet — and really at tackle that’s what you need,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “You need to be able to see (the rush) and you need to be able to get there. He’s the one who can do it, and do it the best.”
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Previous right tackles include senior Rees Odhiambo in 2013, before he moved to the line’s most prestigious job at left tackle last year; junior Travis Averill, who started three games there in 2013 and moved to guard last year; junior Steven Baggett, who started 13 games there in 2014 but moved to right guard this season; and sophomore Archie Lewis, who was the season-opening starter this year but struggled with penalties and the pass rush in the BYU game.
Yakoo has accepted the challenge to make sure the Boise State quarterbacks — true freshman Brett Rypien and sophomore Tommy Stuart, neither of whom have started, for Friday’s game at Virginia (6 p.m., ESPN) — have a clean pocket.
“I don’t want him to think he needs to roll out all the time,” Yakoo said. “We need to do our best job to make sure he’s untouched and makes his reads without hands in his face, without us being pushed into him.”
Boise State defensive ends Sam McCaskill and Kamalei Correa say Yakoo presents problems for rushers because of his size. A bull rush is out of the question, they say.
“He is athletic and he is also really wide,” McCaskill said. “It’s definitely made me better going against him because you don’t see a lot of tackles with what he has.”
Yakoo played tackle for his first three years of high school. He played guard and tackle as a senior and became a full-time guard at Boise State until offensive line coach Scott Huff told him to try tackle this past summer. Yakoo also experimented with the position in fall camp.
With Averill, the returning starter at left guard, suspended for the season opener, Yakoo slid from right guard to left guard. Lewis, the team’s sixth lineman, started at right tackle. The lineup was good enough to beat Washington and was retained for the game at BYU.
Last week, coaches decided they wanted Averill back in the lineup. To make room, Yakoo moved to tackle.
The combination — the five returning starters from last season with Yakoo and Baggett flipped — produced 344 rushing yards and 52 points against Idaho State.
“I feel like we’re coming along,” Yakoo said. “We’ll get it right. I can guarantee you we’ll get it right. We’ve done this before.”
Last year, the offensive line was inconsistent the first half of the season and one of the strengths of the team the second half.
That improvement needs to come sooner this season with one of the best teams the Broncos will face on the schedule this week and an inexperienced pair of quarterbacks running the offense.
“We’re nowhere close to where we need to be or where we’re going,” Yakoo said. “We have to be the strength of the offense and we’re the ones that have got to carry the team, be responsible for the success or failure of this team.
“... We can’t be having anymore false starts. No more penalties on the offensive line. We have to finish. We have to be more physical. It’s there. You watch the film and you see it. Every play, we’re close. The little things are going to make a huge difference.”
Said offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz: “There’s some continuity that needs to take place with that group. They’ve got to get there and they’ve got to get there quick. We don’t have time to wait.”