There were a lot of questions about the attitude and morale of the team after the BYU Cougars practiced at the indoor practice facility on Monday night. That's not surprising, given the fact that the Cougars blew a great opportunity to knock off a top-10 team on their home field last week, falling 42-24 to Oregon State.
Quarterback Riley Nelson, who will remain the starter, said the Cougars still have a lot to play for and definitely aren't hanging their heads.
"We are fighting, scratching and clawing. Nothing is going to come easy for us this year," he said. "We recognize that. But, again, we hope to rise to the opportunities that lie ahead of us, because there are some special ones, and despite what some may think, this season is definitely not done. We are not done internally as players. We worked harder today than we have any other practice.
Weaknesses keep getting exposed. Areas that need improvement keep getting exposed, and we are addressing those each and every day."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall was terse when I asked him about the team's morale on Monday.
"I think they are determined. We had a good practice. And resilient," he said.
Defensive tackle Romney Fuga chuckled when he was asked about the team's spirits because it was the third time he got that question.
"We are motivated, for one thing. We aren't really happy or excited or satisfied. We are disappointed with our performance because we knew that that wasn't us. A lot of points that they got was because we weren't playing the way we have been playing.
So we were kind of mad at ourselves. We were really fired up [at practice] and just wanted to get after it and bang guys. So the morale is good right now."
Fuga said the defense's confidence is still intact.
"We watched film today, and we watched the silly mistakes that we made, and we knew that if we played the way we had been playing, it would have been a different score last Saturday. We are disappointed that we didn't show up," he said.
Tight end Kaneakua Friel had a couple of drops against OSU, and he said the offensive players were just as embarrassed about the loss as the defensive players. He vowed to play better against Notre Dame.
"Definitely there is a positive attitude that we are going to go out and prepare well for this game. And we are going to bring our best game," he said.
Mendenhall acknowledged that when he sees players make mistakes, he voices his displeasure and tells them "very bluntly" about it. Asked whether he seeks feedback after games, the coach said he didn't this time because he was well aware of what went wrong. Then he mentioned that the defense might have had too much confidence.
"Concentration, precision and really execution [were lacking]," he said. "And maybe a little overconfidence defensively, from all the accolades, I think there was a little edge that was missing."
Several defensive players acknowledged that Mendenhall got into them pretty good in team meetings on Monday, but they didn't want to talk about it publicly.
"We talked about it as a team, and we kinda decided we are going to leave it in the room," said linebacker Spencer Hadley. "Some of those comments were for that room, and for our ears only. But what you saw in the first several games, we believe that we can play that way against anybody, and we need to play that way against everybody."
That was sort of the theme for the defense, with several players saying "that wasn't us" out there against OSU.
"I am eager to see our defense perform as they did the first six weeks, not the way they performed last week," Mendenhall said. "That's my main focus right now is getting them to perform again the way I know they are capable of ... In reviewing the film, it was all about our execution, our precision, our concentration. The plays were defendable. They executed theirs at a higher level, but we were not sharp in the secondary."
OSU quarterback Cody Vaz seemingly had a lot of time to throw, but Mendenhall didn't place the blame on an ineffective pass rush. He said the problem was in the secondary.
"We dropped eight the majority of time. They just didn't do their job correctly. So we weren't really blitzing into it very much. We were actually coverage-oriented. And our coverage did not execute well," he said.