(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
HEAD COACH BRONCO MENDENHALL
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It is good to be back in a game week. The bye was very successfully handled by our staff and our players and I think we’re at a higher level of health. We have a clear idea of who we are and what direction to take in the remaining eight weeks of the season. I think it gives us a great chance to refocus and play at a higher level, we’re anxious to reinstate the rivalry against Utah State and we’re looking forward to playing a game.
You’ve mentioned you don’t pay attention to the polls, but what does it say about your program that on a bye week you still move up so much in the polls?
I’m not so sure it says a lot about our program. It says a lot about the system. It is interesting that we can move up without playing a game. I think somewhere, fundamentally that is not right. I think it is inherent anytime you value the outside judgment, we are certainly flattered, but at this point is still has very little relevance. Maybe after four more weeks or five more weeks there will actually be a better resemblance of who the best teams are in the country and where they fit. Until then the speculation is interesting.
You said you have a clearer vision of your team, what things became apparent during the bye week?
I think if you look at the beginning games to after game four, ball security. It is clearly what is driving our success. When we struggle we don’t hold onto the ball very well and when we move the ball well and gain momentum is when we carry the football in a way that we don’t turn it over and we take the ball away. So I think on of the clearest things we took during the first four weeks is how big a role the turnover margin is playing.
Another thing that really became apparent is the balance necessary. The times where, maybe during the last game against Wyoming was a clear indicator with Michael Reed, we had to redefine ourselves a little bit. Knowing that his impact may be larger than what we anticipated, I think it gives us a clearer chance until he returns to see where the ball should go and how frequently. That was something we didn’t anticipate as clearly.
I would say on the defensive side of the ball that the execution of our secondary is what really is improving. So very few balls are going over our head after the first couple of games and that has become absolutely imperative in having two shutouts and not giving up points. I continue to focus on that with them.
What did you think of the college football games this weekend?
The general impression was that on any given Saturday any team is at risk, no matter who they are playing or where. That is the great thing about college football and I really enjoyed seeing a team like Navy play well and beat a ranked opponent. I enjoyed seeing teams like Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Ball State and teams who are putting together successful seasons. That is the intrigue of college football. There are certainly the nationally recognized programs that on any given year are on the top. I really like the parity, I like the upsets, I like the intrigue each week and I like the lessons that come from it. You’re never immune and you have to prepare every week.
You’ve had four games to watch Utah State, what are your general impressions?
I think they’re improving. I like watching their offense I think they are imaginative, they’re creative and they have good athletes. I think as they are gaining momentum, which I believe was the case in their victory over Idaho; there haven’t been stretches against any of their opponents where they have looked effective. I think consistency is what they are probably hoping for and can they capture that identity and have it translate for longer periods of time in a game. Coach Guy is a good football coach and their defense is always sound. They’ve played some very unique offenses up to this point and have given up some points. I don’t think it’s a structural thing, I think they’ve just played some very talented teams. I think where they have made most of their improvement is on the offensive side of the ball and what they are doing just using their talent. I’ve been impressed.
You mentioned the in-state rivalry, is this treated like a rivalry for you?
We won’t approach the game any different than any other week we play. The rivalry is simply to honor that it is an in-state game. When you consider the three major programs in the state, University of Utah, Utah State and ourselves, there is something to be said about a state championship or the beehive boot. I think that is good for the state in general. The rivalry takes on three different heads as you look at all three different programs. I think it is nice to measure yourself against the other teams and vice-versa. At the end of the year there is a clear identification, besides how you do in conference, how you do against the other teams in the state. It is good for the community at large for how competitive most of the fans are, and it links different parts of the state together, which I think is good.
JUNIOR QUARTERBACK MAX HALL
It has been a great weekend, fully devoted to my wife and golf. I got to spend a lot of time with her; I didn’t watch any of the games on Saturday because I promised her I wouldn’t. She did let me watch SportsCenter on Saturday night, so I did get a chance to see all the upsets. It was a good weekend. It was just a relaxing weekend, my wife and I. Now we’re ready to get back in it.
You saw some of the upsets and highlights, did that serve notice to you guys?
Absolutely. I think that is just the way that college football is now days. You can’t get lackadaisical. Any given week no matter who you play, so if you’re playing a big-time team or if you’re playing someone whose record doesn’t show they’re as good, you’ve got to be ready to play. Utah State is going to want to play us tough. It is at their place and it is going to be a fun atmosphere and a fun place to play, but we’ve got to make sure we’re not lazy or not precise in execution after a bye week.
Were you a little surprised to be in the top-10 so early this year?
Maybe this early, I think so. Bottom line was the teams in the top-10 lost and it gave us an opportunity to move up. Now we have to take advantage of it. We’ve got to make sure we finish strong and not let that happen to us. I feel is we lose a game from here on it will be an upset. Again, you’ve got to be able to play every week and I think we’ll stay in the top-10 and reach our goals at the end of the season and get to play in a BCS game.
How is the defense different without Michael Reed on the field?
I think it gives them more opportunity to focus on Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta and Harvey Unga. Mike was a big threat and a guy who we found in single coverage a lot because they were focusing on those other guys. He has proven so far to step up and make big plays, especially on third downs. We realized we need Michael Reed to make our offense complete. Those other guys will step up and I think you’ll see some guys get catches on Friday night against Utah State and play a little role and get the ball in their hands every once in a while. We still need to get the ball to our playmakers and we’ll just be glad when Mike Reed gets back for New Mexico.
How do you assess Fui Vakapuna’s value to the team and what he gives you in the backfield right now?
I think Harvey should be taking Fui out to dinner or lunch every once in a while because right now Fui is playing very unselfishly and doing all the little things right to make not only the running plays but the pass protections work. You’ll see in some of the games he’ll take on his blocker and knock him down and then get another block and Harvey will run for another 15 more yards. The other day Fui said to me, “I don’t care about anything, any of the stats. I’m a senior and I just want to do what I need to so we can win.”
I respect Fui and everything that he is doing for our team. Fui Vakapuna is doing a lot of good things for us right now.