Defense Controls First Scrimmage

Senior cornerback Jernaro Gilford recorded one of the defensive unit's three interceptions in today's scrimmage. All totaled, the defense gathered 14 turnovers and 15 sacks. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

PROVO -- On a day that saw the new-and-improved, pursuit-oriented BYU defense force 14 turnovers, including 3 interceptions and 11 fumbles, senior wide receiver Toby Christensen summed things up with his take on the team's first scrimmage of the Spring season.

"The defense had a great day," Christensen said. "The offense needs to hold on to the ball, we need to block better, we also need to catch the ball better. Pretty much anything you can think of is what we need to improve on as far as the offense goes."

Entering Saturday's scrimmage, head coach Gary Crowton planned to use the morning practice as an opportunity to get a good look at individual performances and both offensive and defensive personnel assignments. Nearly three hours and 157 plays later, Crowton had a pretty good idea of what he had witnessed.

"On both sides of the ball, we need to get tougher," Crowton said. "We need play more physical than we did today. I like the way our defense is getting to the ball. Our defense will cause turnovers this season if they play like they did today.

"It's not about the X's and O's. We're trying to change the mind-set of our defense. We want them to be more aggressive. I still think we are a little soft. There's still a lot of learning to do. Our offense needs to get it together. They have to hang on to the ball."

Concerned over the large number of turnovers by the offense, Crowton said he thought the number of fumbles and dropped passes would decrease as the players got more used to taking hits.

"Today is the first live drill we have done this Spring," he said. "It is the first time many of these guys have been tackled. I think that might be one of the reasons why we had so many dropped balls. That will improve--I'm not worried. They'll get better at hanging on to the ball."

While things didn't start off well for the offense, the defense managed to begin the scrimmage acting like a mad bull in a fine-china shop. Only three plays in to the scrimmage, Berry looked 40 yards down field for junior receiver Rodney Wilkerson. Instead, senior honor candidate Jernaro Gilford stepped in front of the pass to record the defensive unit's first turnover of the afternoon. On the very next play, a botched handoff from Berry to Tafui Vakapuna ended up in the hands of defensive tackle Daniel Marquardt. Exactly one play later, junior tight end Aisaac Aiono looked to turn up field after a five-yard reception from Berry. However, a big hit forced the ball loose for the defensive unit's third turnover in three straight plays.

The offensive unit managed to settle down, and moved 26 yards down field before stalling out after freshman linebacker K.C. Bills sacked Berry for a 5-yard loss.

Mortensen then took charge of the second-team unit. Three plays in to his series, safety Josh Brandon scooped up a fumbled snap. 10 plays later, the second team's drive ended after a Thomas Stancil fumble.

After another series for the first-team offense, which ended with one of Gilford's two pass deflections, Sophomore Lance Pendleton took over. 11 plays and 35 yards later, that drive also stalled on back-to-back sacks by Bryan Kehl and Ryan Ensign, respectively. During the drive, junior running back Curtis Holder tallied the second longest run of the day, picking up a 21-yard gain on the drive's first play. Pendleton also found freshman receiver, Cody Fonnesbeck for a 13-yard gain during the series.

Two series later, the offense got on the scoreboard. On a 2nd-and-11 from the offense's own 41-yardline, junior running back Marcus Whalen broke loose for a scrimmage-best 41-yard touchdown run down the sideline. Whalen finished the scrimmage with 97 yards on 18 carries, averaging 5.4 yards per touch.

On the next series, freshman quarterback John Beck got his first crack at the action. Promptly, Beck picked up a 5-yard gain on a shifty run. After back-to-back completions, Beck made his first miscue--a Nate Soleberg interception in the back of the endzone.

On one of the longest drives of the day, which covered 50-yards over 13 plays, Mortensen went 5-for-5 for 32 yards, and Vakapuna picked up 5 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run to cap the drive.

Midway through the scrimmage, the defense came up with its most impressive moment of the day. Linebacker Colby Bockwoldt scooped up a fumble and headed for the endzone. With an offensive player closing in, Bockwoldt pitched to Kip Nielsen, who ran in for the score. It was just as if they had practiced that play less than 24 hours before.

"I think it went pretty well for our first scrimmage," Nielsen said. "There are still quite a few things we need to improve on, but overall the effort and the intensity was good. I think we need to keep playing hard and learn our assignments better. We are still learning, so we will continue to get better."

The scrimmage ended with each unit working the Red Zone two or three different times. Despite having three different series stopped on a sack, the offense struck pay dirt on the eighth Red Zone series. Berry called his own number and executed the quarterback sneak on a one-yard dive into the endzone.

"We wanted to practice the team hard today," Crowton said. "I felt we needed to have a long, hard practice in order to get a good look at everybody. We wanted to put both the offense and defense in tough situations. I think both units responded at times, however I want them to know they need to be ready to play.

Berry finished the morning scrimmage with a team-leading 88 yards on 13 completions. Mortensen completed the day with 64 yards on 10 completions, while Beck connected on 9 attempts for 46 yards. Pendleton had 4 completions for 31 yards.

"I'm proud of Matt [Berry]," Crowton said. "His day didn't start out too well. He was throwing up, and just wasn't feeling very well. He gutted up and went out and played hard. I'm proud of him for that. I think he did a good job."

Slater was the leading receiver for the offense, grabbing three balls for 43 yards, including a scrimmage-high 28-yard reception. Fonnesbeck had 32 yards on four receptions, while Jason Kukahiko added 29 yards, also on four receptions. Vakapuna and Breyon Jones also had four receptions on the day.

Defensively, four different players had two sacks each, including Kehl, Jared Meibos, Bryant Athkinson and Bockwoldt. In addition to interceptions from Gilford and Soleberg, Joel Theler was credited with an interception.

The Cougars will return to their regular 5:45 a.m. practice schedule on Monday, with additional workouts on both Wednesday and Friday. The team will scrimmage again next Saturday, which will be closed to the public. Fans will have an opportunity to see the team in action on Saturday, March 22 at Noon in Edwards Stadium for the annual Blue-White scrimmage.

PASSING STATS

Player Att. Comp. Yds TD Int. Sack

Berry 23 13 88 0 1 6

Mortensen 15 10 64 0 0 2

Beck 16 9 46 0 2 4

Pendleton 10 4 31 0 0 4

RUSHING STATS

Player Carries Yds TD Long

Whalen 18 97 1 41

Vakapuna 12 32 1 11

Holder 4 22 0 21

Stancil 8 19 0 11

Brathwaite 5 9 0 4

RECEIVING STATS

Player Rec. Yds. TD Long

Slater 3 43 0 28

Fonnesbeck 4 32 0 13

Kukahiko 4 29 0 11

Wilkerson 3 26 0 12

Jones 4 23 0 7

Hale 1 24 0 24

Coates 3 20 0 12

Vakapuna 4 14 0 6

T. Christensen 2 14 0 7

Olomua 2 11 0 7

Omer 1 7 0 7

D. Christensen 2 6 0 3

Hadfield 1 5 0 5

Aiono 1 5 0 5

Brathwaite 2 3 0 5

Whalen 1 2 0 2

DEFENSIVE STATS

Player Sack Int. PBU

Gilford 0 1 2

Bills 1 0 0

J. Carlson 1 0 0

Kehl 2 0 0

R. Nielsen 1 0 0

Barney 0 1 1

Soleberg 0 1 1

Meibos 2 0 0

Madarieta 1 0 0

Atkinson 2 0 1

K. Nielsen 0 0 1

Alba 0 0 1

Wright 1 0 0

Bockwoldt 2 0 0

Theler 0 0 1

Burbidge 0 0 1

Denny 1 0 0

Preston 1 0 0