(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
The following is a partial transcript from BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall's weekly press conference, including comments from quarterback Jake Heaps, defensive back Travis Uale and offensive lineman Braden Hansen:
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Our team is probably the healthiest I think it has been coming out of two-a-days. Our coaching staff has done a really nice job preparing to this point. There is still some uncertainty in terms of what we are going to be defending and what we are going to be going against in terms of their defense.
From our standpoint we had a lot of returning players. I know from Ole Miss’ stand point they have a few key players they are replacing in pretty critical spots and so to predict the outcome and predict how the game will go that will be difficult. Most of the focus is just on us, our schemes and our execution. It will put quite a bit of emphasis on game day and then matching up to what we see that we hadn’t predicted or maybe we have predicted right and guessed right and the schemes we prepared for match.
Today is the first day of school for our players, which usually leads to a little bit more difficulty in practice. Players are usually a little bit more distracted and tired. I think we have adjusted our practice structure to reflect that. We got an extra day of work on Saturday to try and take that into account.
What do you know now about this team that you didn’t know a month or so ago?
The good news is there aren’t many surprises. I liked out team coming out of spring practice, I liked out constituent spirit after the spring game. Not having any contact with our players over the spring and summer semesters I think maybe the biggest mysteries or biggest thing I’ve learned is who was really committed during the spring and summer. You can tell by their conditioning and how they finished camp. Some of the players you can tell didn’t count the summer as necessary and they were a little bit more injury prone, or maybe they dropped a spot in terms of their depth because of their summer preparation. I think our current depth going into the Ole Miss game really reflects what I did find out, maybe more individually than collectively as a team. I like our team, I think we have a lot of depth and we have good players. A few individuals here and there might have slipped on the chart maybe spending the summer not as committed they needed to be.
How would you describe the feeling heading into this season compared to your first season as head coach?
Its nothing like the first one, there aren’t nearly as many questions, from not only myself personally but for our team. I think if you were to try and draw any similarities, the expectations; I think there was a lot of optimism. The first game wasn’t even sold out. If you were to talk about the expectations where we are now, they are much, much higher based on the kind of program we have had over the last six years. So now it’s not only the expectation but we are expected to make another significant jump, which I think and hope we are prepared for. Not only personally, but as a team, I really don’t liken it to the first season at all, I liken it to just the next step after six years to improve the program.
What do you think it means to your program heading into the Ole Miss game, being picked to win?
I think it establishes credibility that has been built over six years. We have won a lot of games over the past six years and beat some good teams. When you consider the consistency we have shown not just in one year but over six years and then consider our returning quarterback and our returning players, I don’t think it is anything negative against Ole Miss, it’s just a complement based on credibility earned. Predictions don’t mean much. We still have to go play and play well. We think it’s going to be a very difficult game against a formidable opponent. I do like that there is confidence in our program, which is what it think it says. It may not even be specifically this team but I think early season predictions reflect confidence in programs.
What is your biggest concern with this team or what keeps you up at night now?
It’s just helping them reach their potential. I’ve actually had very few concerns with the team, its more making sure that our coaches and myself are giving this team its best chance. I think they have a lot of potential, I think they have a lot of depth and I think they have a lot of talent. They are good players and good people, so really what’s keeping me up is my own performance and our organization’s performance trying to help this team reach their fullest potential.
With the SEC being thought of as the elite league in football, what are you looking forward to playing against them?
I’m anxious to see how we measure and how we fit against them. National champions have come out of the SEC the last couple of years at least. Football is a really big thing and knowing SEC coaches, their lives are quite different. I don’t know how much different in relation to mine at BYU but there is a lot of pressure and a lot of exposure; football is a big thing in the south. They have a lot of talent, good coaching and a lot of tradition at almost every school. I’m anxious to see and compete against these teams, maybe on a yearly basis to see how we stack up.
How does the possibility of Ole Miss playing to quarterbacks affect preparation?
Two quarterbacks are hard because it affects the chemistry of your team. All I have tried to do is predict what that might do in leading to schemes. That’s really what to address for defensive players, not really who the quarterback is but what they might do because of who the quarterback is. I don’t know enough about him to really highlight strengths or weaknesses. It’s mostly what we think they are going to do and focusing on ourselves to make sure our execution is as high as possible.
What do you think the affects the weather will have on the team?
It’s going to be hot and its going to be humid. There is no way to simulate it here. We have done extra conditioning and extra running. We have told them it’s going to be hot and humid. We have been to Florida State, I’ve coached at Louisiana Tech, some of our coaches have been elsewhere and our training staff is ready. There is a fine line between not making too big deal out of it. They are going to be tired and hot and that is part of football as well.
How is BYU going to handle another quarterback that is mobile compared to other years when the team has struggled?
I think we have more speed and I think we have more experience. I certainly have more experience after six years. We have seen some of the best mobile quarterbacks in the country the last three years so I think we have more experience to draw from. Our players that have played have been a part of that experience. By nature a mobile quarterback causes problems. Most zone coverage and most coverage in general are not designed to cover the quarterback they are designed to cover the running backs and receivers. If you don’t have the right people on the field in terms of pressure or athletes, sometimes you can get outrun. I think we have a few more packages now that might be able to help us.
How much input have you had with offensive coaches in how you could possibly use quarterback Riley Nelson?
I’ve had quite a bit of input from just a philosophical or overall perspective. That’s where I do most of my thinking; in big picture or broad spectrum. After I share that with my coaches I expect them to get to the specifics of this type of play, in this situation, etc. All I have done is express my expectations to not only our offensive staff but also our special teams staff of how he might be used. Then their job is to design the schemes ands strategies to meet the bigger picture expectation I have shared with them.
Is there more pressure to win now as an independent since it may be harder to do so?
I don’t know if it is harder or not to win as an independent. My guess is our access to the BCS is the exact same, we’ll have to go undefeated. And we’ll probably have to do it for a number of years. I’m thinking what my ideal is and what my dream is for the program. A national championship, I believe it is possible, knowing we’ll have to go undefeated at least once to get into a BCS game. We’ll probably have to win that game and then probably go undefeated again, and probably within a relatively short amount of time to get the nod and have that opportunity. It’s certainly difficult but I’m not going to say it’s not possible.
QB Jake Heaps:
We have been anxious to get back into the swing of things and progress as a football team and start playing this season. We want to prove that we are more than a 7-6 football team and we have a lot of guys returning. We have a huge chip on shoulder so we are really excited and it surreal to think we will be in Oxford this weekend.
What do you think starting against Ole Miss and a tough opening schedule says about BYU?
Its huge, this new era in Cougar football and independence is a huge deal. With this game and the way we are starting it’s a great way to say we’re not afraid to go after the big name schools. We’re not afraid to put them on our schedules because we believe we have the talent and ability and we have the coaching to win those games. They aren’t going to be easy they are going to be hard fought games. We believe we can go in there and win.
Do you have any uncertainty heading into the season opener?
There isn’t any uncertainty other than it’s up to individual person to do everything they can to be ready. I’m walking around everyday with this game script in my hand. I have to know the plays like it’s the back of my hand and go out there and give my very best to my football team. It’s one of those things that’s on an individual basis. You hope that everyone on your team wants it as bad as you do and I am confident that they do and I know they will show up.
Do you think going on the road is better way to gauge where the team is at to start the season?
You have to play the game. It’s a great opponent home or away. Obviously it’s tougher on the road in a big environment like that. I think it’s a good benchmark to see where we are at and see what we are going to be able to do the rest of the season. I’m excited.
DB Travis Uale:
Is stopping the run a main focus of the defense?
Coach Mendenhall has got us in different situations to be able to be ready for anything they throw at us. Stopping the run is always our main concern. Offenses are going to come up running and open up the passing game if they can. Being concerned about the run is definitely a part of our defense. It’s one of the main goals and main things we address each week when we prepare for our opponents.
What does playing a team from the SEC mean?
Its exciting, I don’t remember the last time BYU has played a team from the SEC, let alone Ole Miss. It’s a great opportunity for us, they are a great opponent. It will test us of where we really are.
Will winning this game prove that BYU is one of the "elite" programs?
If we play well I’m not sure if it proves we are a part of the elite since we still have 10 more games to play after that. I think it’s a good test for us and a good opener. We’ll have to perform every game after that.
OL Braden Hansen:
How is the offensive line going to play?
With our experienced line we should be able to protect Jake and pick up the blitzes that Ole miss will bring. It’s going to be a battle. Our offensive line has worked really hard and tried to lean up this summer. We want make sure we can play four quarters of football at a high level. That’s what we are trying to do this Saturday.
How will the heat and humidty affect the team?
With the heat and humidity, maybe we were a little worried at the beginning of summer. During fall camp have been doing a lot of extra conditioning preparing for it. I hope with our extra work and extra conditioning, and it’s been pretty hot here the last couple of weeks, hopefully we are ready.