Provo • Offensive coordinator Robert Anae returned time and time again to an analogy about running a marathon on Saturday as the BYU Cougars wrapped up their first full week of preseason camp with a short post-practice scrimmage in front of 10,000 or so fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Anae cautioned that the offense he has installed is still trying to get out of the starting gate and has a long, long way to go before it gets to where it needs to be.
Apparently, “go fast, go hard” is more about the finish than the start.
“When you are running a marathon, and you trip over a rock on the first five steps, I am sure you are going to be all right,” Anae said. “... We are just coming out of the blocks. I am pleased with the starting point. ... Where we go from here, hopefully we go a lot further down the road than what you saw today.”
Actually, the offense didn’t trip over its own feet (aside from a couple of illegal procedure penalties and an interception thrown by third/fourth-stringer Jason Munns and returned by Michael Wadsworth for a touchdown). But it clearly wasn’t functioning at the same rapid pace that it was in 11-on-11 drills viewed by the media earlier in the week.
“I think when we go back and evaluate it, there were times when guys were sluggish walking around,” Anae said. “That’s kind of the beauty of coming to the stadium. Some guys show up and start sleepwalking. The purpose of the deal was to find out who could come here and go fast and play hard. We will have on film a decent picture of that.”
The unquestioned starting quarterback, Taysom Hill, performed well. He got the first of three practice-ending series and led the offense on a 16-play, 80-yard drive for a touchdown. However, there’s no way the Cougars got a play off every 12 seconds, their stated desire.
Hill completed 5 of 8 passes for 55 yards and ran three times for 20 yards. The biggest cheer of the day came not when Adam Hine scored the only TD during the official scrimmage, but when Hill slid feet-first after a 10-yard scamper during a mid-practice series of plays in the red zone.
“For some reason, I thought we started a little sluggishly [on the red-zone stuff],” Hill said. “Then with the heat and everything else, I thought our guys were just a little fatigued. It is the end of the week, and it has been a really long week.”
On the second series, with backup Ammon Olsen at the helm, the offense sputtered and had to punt. Olsen did throw a beautiful 18-yard touchdown pass to Mitch Mathews during the red-zone work.
On the final possession, Wadsworth picked off Munns early in the drive.
“We did go fast, but we can go faster than that. We have to lean up a few things, make sure we are on the same page, and we can get faster,” said Mathews, perhaps the offensive MVP of the first week of camp. At least, he could be classified as the biggest surprise.
Fellow receiver Ross Apo said the day was clearly designed to test the players’ mental toughness.
“To come out here and go through practice, and then scrimmage at the end, the coaches knew it would be tough,” Apo said. “But this is how it is going to be in games, going into the fourth quarter. I think today’s practice was more about mental toughness than execution.”
A lot of the time was spent on evaluating the three kickers in camp, as Justin Sorensen, Vance “Moose” Bingham and Trevor Samson took turns showing what they could do. It was pretty much a draw.
Mendenhall, who spoke Saturday in self-deprecating fashion about the firestorm he caused for five hours Thursday when he said the players would wear the program’s buzzwords on their back-of-jersey nameplates, is pleased with the first week.
“I like the talent. I like the pace. I like the consistency and I liked the execution for the first six or seven days,” Mendenhall said. “Probably ahead of where I thought we would be, if I had to pinpoint it down.”
O About 10,000 football fans withstand the blazing sunshine and heat to watch the practice and a short scrimmage at the end at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
• Starting quarterback Taysom Hill directs an 80-yard touchdown drive in his only appearance in the 11-on-11 scrimmage.
• Michael Wadsworth, a transfer from Hawaii, returns an interception 30 yards for a touchdown in the final play of the scrimmage.