A day after arriving in San Diego for Thursday's Poinsettia Bowl, BYU's football team headed over to Helix High School in the La Mesa area for their first practice on Monday.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said it did not go particularly well.
"I thought it was a little sluggish," Mendenhall said. "Kind of transitional, I would say. I think we had a really good week last week, but moving from the hotel, practing here, a little bit different practice time in the morning. It wasn't as sharp as what I had expected or hoped for, and that's what I shared with our team just a moment ago."
The Cougars went in shorts and helmets with temperatures in the mid-to-high 50s during the practice. Mendenhall said they will do the same thing on Tuesday.
"We got the majority of our work done, phsysically, back home. I am talking about the contact work, etc. So this is a very similar model that we have followed, with the successes that we have had. So I think it matches our team right now," he said.
After the practice, Mendenhall and linebackers coach Paul Tidwell jumped on Harley Davidson motorcycles provided by a local dealer and cruised around San Diego a bit. I've posted a few pictures of the coaches on the big bikes on my Twitter account, which is @drewjay if you haven't found that yet.
The players jumped in buses and headed back to the team hotel. After a quick change, they headed over to SeaWorld for an afternoon at the marine-based amusement park.
Because the NCAA allows the school to pay for players' wives and children on bowl trips, BYU's traveling party is larger than 300 people, according to Duane Busby, director of football operations.
"It is nice to have things to do that are [as good as] SeaWorld and the Zoo (where the team will go Tuesday]," Mendenhall said. "The key is managing the transitions, again, from work to then switching the gears to have fun.
The mature teams and the best teams that I have coached in bowl games, that has been really the key to it, is they have been able to make that transition successfully. So I hope the players have a fantastic time, but then when it is time to work, we need to make sure that none of that is lingering, and in their minds."
Reporters were allowed to watch the first 10 minutes of practice on Monday, and in the 10 minutes I watched, James Lark took all the reps. As I wrote for the newspaper a couple hours ago, and mentioned on Twitter, I will be stunned if Lark does not start the game on Thursday.
"Still, James is getting more reps than Riley. And that's still reflective [of Riley not being 100 percent]," Mendenhall said after practice when asked about the QB situation. "In my opinion, Riley is still not yet 100 percent. The good news is we have three more days. But they are both getting work. There is a good chance you could see both, and I am not sure how it is going to play out. Nor could I predict the next three days, but the reps are similar to what they were back home."
After Mendenhall said both QBs might play, I asked him if he's got a rotation in mind.
"It is really more of a feel, especially based really on how well Riley is feeling," he said. "Again, three days away, and what I have already learned in managing it this year, is a lot could change in even one day."
It rained here Monday morning, but it was clear and dry when the Cougars practiced. There's a chance of rain on Thursday, but Mendenhall said the weather conditions will not have an impact on which quarterback starts and/or plays.
Aside from Nelson, the only other player among the two-deep still battling injury is offensive lineman Braden Hansen, who is still recovering from a groin tear and won't play.
"I don't see any others to mention to you other than Braden Hansen. He won't play. So that's confirmed -- he is not going to be back in time. I think that was the one that might have had any question to it," Mendenhall said.
Couple more comments from Mendenhall:
On how SDSU compares to other teams they've played as far as running the ball:
"Yeah, they are really physical. Let's see. Obviously you can't compare them to Georgia Tech because the style is so different. But when you look at the yardage, probably the next closest teams are Boise State, maybe, in terms of the physical nature, and the confidence and identity they play with.
Yeah, I would say that is probably the next comparison I would draw."
On what kind of crowd he expects:
"I don't ever know the exact number [of BYU fans], but from what I have heard there should be a great showing. I think what they are expecting from bowl officials is the bottom portion of the stadium, the bowl bowl, will be full. That's about 40,000 in attendance. I think they will be happy if that is what it is.
I have been told. I can't verify that.
On whether it will be a disadvantage playing in their home stadium:
"Not really. I think they would certainly view it as an advantage. But we are in a bowl game and we are playing in San Diego. It is hard to say that is a disadvantage."
On whether he has been contacted by any schools about his assistants and job openings:
"Not yet. No. And the only agreement I have with my assistants is that when they are contacted, I would just like to know first. And I am very helpful in expressing what their future would be like here, and then what opportunities they might have and if they want to proceed I will help them. But I haven't been contacted about any of my assistants, which we have had a lot of success following that protocol, so I think it will be fine."
On whether his mindset has changed in practice with the thinking that he will play more:
"I am trying to keep as the same as usual. In past bowl games my mindset probably hasn't been as strong as it is now. I mean, I have to stay a lot more focused.
I don't enjoy as much of the city as I did in the past, because I actually got to stay and watch as much film and prepare for the game."
On playing against the 3-3-5:
"It is nothing we can't handle, but they have a lot of moving parts, a lot of guys twisting. So we have to make sure we are focused and we target the right guys. If we target the right guys, it is just like any team and we will be able to run the football. But they are a good football team.
One thing I give them a lot of credit for is that they all play hard. They are running to the ball and they are all playing as hard as they can."
On whether he knows who is going to start:
"Do I know? No comment. I can't really comment on that."
On having so many reps and how great that is:
"I wouldn't call it heaven. It has just been a lot more meaningful. I come out here and I get to do something I love, instead of watch something I love. I love playing football. I mean, it is my last football game at BYU. It really means a lot to be out there with my guys, playing and getting better."
On whether the guys are focused:
"Yeah, a little sluggish. But that's expected. We are at a different altitude, a different city. Got a lot of distractions. But I think guys came out with their minds right, ready to play. I mean, we traveled yesterday, and had a lot of things going on. Maybe a little sluggish, but mentally we are focused and dialed in."
On whether they have an advantage because BYU used to run the 3-3-5 a long time ago:
"Maybe. I mean, I don't think a lot of our guys have gone against it. We've got a lot of young guys that weren't here when we ran the 3-3-5. I think coach Mendenhall, his help, whenever...has been really good for us.
But other than that, it is another football team. They do a lot of things the same, but they do some different things, and we are getting ready for it. Luckily, we have had a lot of time to prepare."
On the center exchange with Blair Tushaus:
"The exchanges have been great. Blair has been doing snaps his whole life. And so I am not worried about it. We haven't had any bad snaps out here at practice. I mean, none in the dirt, so everything has been great."
On what guys have benefited the most from layoff:
"I think our offensive line. Those guys have been banged up all year, and this rest has been really good for them. Braden Brown, Ryker, all those guys. I think that is how it is for an offensive line at the end of a season. They all got big injuries and are banged up. But three weeks, there bodies are healed up and they are ready to go."
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