On Wednesday, head coach Gary Crowton addressed members of the local media at the weekly Tucano's BYU Football Media Luncheon. What follows are his comments made at the luncheon concerning the upcoming game against UNLV.
Crowton - Looking at the UNLV game, we're trying to prepare for them. They have a lot of good players on their team. I felt like last year, defensively, they were one of the toughest teams we faced last year, at least in the top 3 of our 14-game schedule. They've got a lot of players back. They are very capable defensively. Offensively, (Jason) Thomas is back. Two years ago, he was a Heisman candidate. He didn't have as good a year last year. But I see they're doing a few different things and they'll be rotating quarterbacks. But he is very, very capable and so athletic. Their running back is very good as well. (Dominique) Dorsey hasn't played as much but I'm sure he'll play more against us because he had such a good game against us last year. But going into this game, I like our tempo in practice. It was good yesterday and we need to have another good practice today. We've got a young quarterback that will be starting. He's done some good things but I'm sure he's going to make some errors. Hopefully he'll make some good plays too. Hopefully, he'll be able to get consistent with what we're doing. We've narrowed down our repertoire of plays down for (Matt) Berry a little bit. Hopefully he'll play good. We do have our backs back. Even though Marcus (Whalen) played last week, he was still lacking in confidence on cutting against the grain. He's running at full speed pretty good but just having some problems cutting against the grain. As this week has been going on, he's become a little more confident. He's been practicing a lot this week and that is always a good sign.
Q - How important is it for you to be playing at home this week?
Crowton - Being at home is huge for us. I do believe we have a young team and as the season goes on, it seems the team gets younger, especially right now with Matt Berry at the quarterback position. We're going to use Pendleton like we have. Those guys are both redshirt freshmen off missions. We are a young team, so being at home really helps us. The fan support, the familiarity of the field and all the other things really help out. We've done well at home. We haven't lost here yet so hopefully we can continue to play well. It's nice to be back. We've been gone for a long time.
Q - Have you ever had to develop a redshirt freshman during a season before?
Crowton - I have a long time ago. The difference between Matt (Berry) and a regular redshirt, is that he wasn't here last year. That is why it has taken a little longer for him to get use to guys getting in his face. That is why the J.V. games have proved to be so important. He got some reps during the bye week and that helps. It's a little different scenario than I've had. He was not on the team last year and so he couldn't get a feel for the tempo of the game. We're just trying to get him use to the tempo. Same thing goes for Ben Olson. I?m going to redshirt Olson this year. I want to give him every opportunity to grow as a young quarterback. I?ve been very tempted to play him, but I've been very pleased with the progress of Matt Berry. The last time I played a redshirt freshman, our starting quarterback, Mark Carr, got mononucleosis at the University of New Hampshire and Matt Griffen came out and played as a redshirt freshman. It took a little time to get him going but once he did, he played pretty good. With Matt, he's six games into the year and he has practiced and been around the program. He did good in the Air Force game.
Q - How much patience will you have with Berry?
Crowton - I'll be patient with him. I don't blame Engemann at all for the things that haven't gone well. Sometimes he's been inconsistent but sometimes everyone else has too. We?re young in a lot of areas. Protection hasn't always been the best because we have new backs and offensive linemen. Sometimes, it has been really good. The receivers have dropped some balls, especially last week. I feel like Bret has done a great job. He has prepared and come back from a very tough injury. He still has an ankle that bothers him that he injured in the Air Force game from two years ago. That ankle will probably need surgery at some point. He has come out and helped us win the games we have won. All three games we have won, he started and played well in. I feel that right now with this team, we need to look to someone else and see if we can develop some chemistry. I don't blame Bret. I'm not done with him. If there is an opportunity where I think he can help us win a game, I have no hesitation to bring him back in. As with Matt, I'll be patient with him but if I feel like we have a chance to win the game with somebody else, I'll really think that through. I'm not willing to sacrifice wins and losses for just one guy at this point. We are still in it. We've got to win and we can win. I'll be patient enough to allow him to develop and grow in there. And even if I take him out at times, it doesn't mean that I am done with him.
Q - Are there other positions where you are making changes?
Crowton - We have done some things and people just don?t notice them because the focus is generally on the quarterback. (Jason) Kukahiko has been playing a lot lately. He's done some things in practice and moved himself up. He's had a touchdown reception. Brandon Stephens has been playing more and more and will probably play a little more at tackle. He's doing well and it gives us a chance to play Isaac Herring inside at times. As you look at our backs, Whalen came out and was playing well and then got hurt. Then all of a sudden, Curtis Brown is playing. They're both young backs. But I think going with Berry is the direction this team needs to take. I don't blame Bret. I think he's an outstanding player with great physical abilities. He's going to get better. I don't want him to go out and get booed before 65,000 people. This will give him a chance to sit back and take a look at things before he gets his next opportunity. Hopefully, he'll make the most of it.
Q - What about the other side of the ball? Are there any changes on defense that you might make?
Crowton - There are a lot of changes that have happened because of some injuries. We've already made some changes and so we're a little thinner there. Jernaro (Gilford) has been unable to play. He tried to practice yesterday and he did a little bit. I don't know if he?ll be ready play, probably not. I'd like to move Chad Barney to safety at some point. He's a good safety and he's a pretty good cornerback. Kip Nielson is playing because (Mike) Sumko got hurt. Kip has made some plays. He's gotten better but he is still pretty young. Sumko is back so we have both of them now. James Allen has been hurt with an ankle, but he is coming back and he played a little last week. We have a young safety in Aaron Francisco. This is his second year starting, but he is only a sophomore. (Brady) Poppinga is a sophomore and is also a young player. We've moved John Denney and Jeff Cowart in there as well. We are doing some things. We're rotating our tackles. Scott Young made a big play last week. Mike Tanner will probably get the start this week, but we're going to see how Paul (Walkenhorst) is this week. As you can see, defensively, we're a little bit thin. We've had some young guys come in there and play. We've decided to redshirt Jake Kuresa as well.
Q - With homecoming this week, do you have any particular feelings or memories?
Crowton - It feels good to be home. It feels good to be in our stadium on our turf. We're use to the grass. I like homecoming. It's just nice to be back here. I don't make any excuses for the losses we made on the road. But hopefully, we can get some advantage playing back at home. Homecomings are great. I've loved homecomings. There's a lot going on and that can be distracting. There are two things that are happening. First, everyone is in town and some of them want to be with the players or the coaches. The other thing is homecoming always brings with it a lot of excitement. We're going to go to the hotel and try to separate ourselves from all that. Yesterday, I did the devotional, I wasn't there very long but I was in the middle of a meeting and had to leave to go do that.
Q - What about your receivers as a whole, how do you feel they are playing?
Crowton - The receivers are a good group. I think Reno (Mahe) is outstanding. I think Toby Christensen is having a pretty good year. Andy Ord was having a pretty good year until he got hurt. He's now back. He might not be 100 percent. He missed the Georgia Tech game with his quad hurting. I think as a receiving corp., they are pretty good. With the guys we have and the guys that are redshirting, I think we have a really good receiving corp. I think if we get more first downs, we will do a little better job. They are very capable but they are still pretty young. David Christensen is a young player. He made a few mistakes in the Utah State game, but he has come back and made some good plays. He had a great play against Syracuse when he caught that pass and took it to the house for a touchdown. With our youthfulness, we show a lot of promise and excitement at times, but we also see some errors at key times as well.
Q - What about the six dropped balls last week?
Crowton - I didn't think it was good in that game. We had two dropped by the tight ends and four by the receivers. Anytime a guy touches the ball and doesn't catch it, we count it as a dropped ball. On one of the passes, the ball was behind him. The six dropped balls were a little excessive. I don't say that to be down on the receivers. I say that because the team as a whole needs to work at getting better. I'm not pointing any fingers at anyone. I'm not pointing it at the quarterback, receivers or linemen. As a whole, we need to catch a little better, protect a little bit better, throw the ball a little bit better and run a little bit better. If we do that on offense, things will start coming together. On defense, we need to get off blocks, we need to be physical and we need to make plays on third down. Our penalties have gone down. We only had three last week. We're making progress in that area and now we just need to make progress in all areas. Last week was a very unusual game because of the style of football that Air Force plays defensively.
Q - Can you tell us about how you can get your guys emotionally prepared for the game when every team is looking to knock you off or get revenge from last year?
Crowton ? That is how it is going to be with BYU. That's how it's been with BYU. BYU is always the team you have to beat. Even when they don't have their best team, everyone goes into that game knowing BYU has the ability to beat anyone in the conference. Even though we lost last week, it is still that way. What I need to do as a coach from an emotional standpoint is to get us to play correctly. The youthfulness of this team makes errors and they're going to make errors. They are getting there. Ifo Pili and Ryan Gunderson were the only two guys that are playing the same position that they did last year. What I think we need to do, in answer to your question, is I need to get the younger guys playing better. We need to be more consistent in what we do and become a well-oiled machine. Right now, we rev that engine and it sounds good sometimes and at other times we knock a little bit. We just need to get over that. There's a lot of football to be played. We're still very upbeat. We like what we?re doing. We're seeing things on film that look good. We need to get out to a good start and keep playing hard.
Q - Will you look to establish the run more than you did last week?
Crowton - I wanted to establish the run the other night but we were down by 35 and I have two quarterbacks I wanted to take a look at. They scored on their first three possessions and I was still trying to establish the run. I never left the run game until the second half. And in the second half I purposefully left it because I made the decision to look at the other quarterbacks mid-way through the third quarter.