BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
I was pleased with the way our football team played on Saturday. It was our most complete game this season and probably the most complete game since I have been the head coach. I believe that our team executed at a very high level during all phases of the game, and they also played with great emotion and a physical presence. Normally when you play physical with the presence of emotions, you sacrifice execution. In this particular case that wasn’t what happened. I was very pleased with the way we played and we are anxious to start conference play and welcome Wyoming into LaVell Edwards Stadium this coming Saturday.
What was the most satisfying moment of the game last Saturday?
I’m not sure I could say just one moment that was most satisfying. What I enjoyed most was the physical part of the game. I think when you watch our offensive line play, and I am not sure how much attention it is receiving but as far as I am concerned that is where our team is grounded, where the fundamentals start and our identity begins. I think our offensive line, and in this particular game our defensive line, have played with a physical presence that has set the tempo of the game and allowed other things. Those units really set the tone for the game.
When you compete at such a high level, where do you go from here?
There is still plenty to improve. I mentioned after the game our kick coverage, we have a lot of freshman running down and running as hard as they can without so much discipline. We have a lot of freshman on our special teams, so I would say our special teams execution with precision. There is all kind of room and the ceiling isn’t even in sight with what they are going to be capable of.
Then I would say, when you consider from the offensive and defensive perspective, there are intricacies. I’ve said it many times with position mastery. I think we are gaining ground at the point of attack but collectively I still think it can be improve.
Can you talk a little bit about your improved defense, especially the secondary?
Our secondary has improved each week so far. They have seen different tasks, different challenges and different schemes. This was their third week of improvement. I think that will continue through the year. There will still be mishaps back there, but I think they are gaining confidence and they are gaining maturity and poise.
Can you address the movement in the polls and what it means to you?
It doesn’t mean anything to me right now. At the end of the season, after we have played our entire year and met our goals of winning a conference championship and remaining undefeated at home, at the end we’ll determine where we have finished. It doesn’t affect me or our team.
The conference went 7-1 this past weekend and 4-0 against the PAC-10, can you comment on the conference and teams like UNLV?
I’m really happy for coach Sanford. He has worked diligently to get UNLV to be competitive and to win against good opponents on the road is difficult to do.
I think what is happening in our league is that we are getting better. There has been parity from top to bottom in the past number of years. You look now at the team, you hear the scores and see them. I certainly know about New Mexico’s program and they are a very tough competitive team. Now when you consider TCU, Air Force, Wyoming, and now with what UNLV seems to be doing, I think it is good for the league.
I think the credibility we keep gaining as a program is spreading over to the league. I think that will happen over time and continue if we keep having the kinds of weekends we just had.
Do you see any benefits having been able to play a lot of younger guys?
What I expect is just morale improvement, which was already high. I think that will improve it. It is great to have a chance to contribute and some of those players were anxious for their chance. Certainly they were feeling part of the team, but that is not the same as being out there in the stadium competing against the number one offense or defense of UCLA. When those backups went in, they were competing to hold the lead, widen the lead and to prevent a score. They did so admirably with very little experience. I liked what I saw with the next wave of BYU players. It was fun for us to have a chance to reward them and see them capitalize and earn some trust and credibility from their coaching staff and peers.
You are knocking at the top-10 and you have the nation’s longest active winning streak, what do you say to people who say you should cruise over Wyoming?
I don’t think that cruise and our philosophy match. We are looking to get better every single game. We intended to improve in this particular game and this is conference play, which does matter to us more than any of the other goals. When we have a chance to play in our stadium in a conference game, it is a great chance for our team to improve and for us to establish ourselves in league and for our fans to continue to show their support.
Can you address the topic of your offensive line?
In the radio show that I do on a weekly basis with Greg Wrubell, he usually gives me irrelevant statistics that I share with our staff. In this particular case there was a relevant statistic and that was that we haven’t given up a sack or a holding penalty in our first three games, and I think it was the first time in BYU history. The offensive line is playing at the highest level since I have been a coach any place including BYU. I think that is the catalyst to our success and I tried to allude to that earlier.
Can you talk about Wyoming on both sides of the ball and what you have seen from them?
I’ll start with their defense. I’m impressed as I have been every year with their defense. They run a similar scheme, but not identical to what we run, basing out of a 3-4. They like zone pressure, they like to disrupt and they like to alter your timing. They also play zone well enough to make you earn your scores. They are not only good at holding yardage down, but they are good at holding points down not only this year but in the previous two years. We have a lot of respect for what they do defensively.
When you consider offensively, they would like to run the football as much as possible. We think that their running back is probably one of the featured backs in the league. They are making a more specific attempt this year to get the ball to him in more ways. I think if there were to choose what kind of game plan they would hold onto the ball on offense and run it. Giving the ball and featuring their running back, and disrupt and keep your timing off defensively through pressure with a mixture of base-zone and have the game close to the end and see what happens?
You’ve talked many times about getting BYU back to the level it is at, in relation to that how much weight do you put on a game like UCLA?
It was very gratifying to see our team play very well. I don’t think I’m going to be the one to gauge if we are back, when we are back and to what level. It is not possible to return as BYU once was without beating quality opponents in a convincing fashion, which is what we did. How many of those you have to do over how much time—I’m not certain, but it has to start somewhere. I think we are putting together a pretty impressive run against a conference that many view as a solid conference in the top-10. We’re putting together a solid run of consecutive victories not only at home but over time. I don’t know what the threshold and marks are to view us as back. I think the intrigue has moved to whatever level is after intrigue. I think that will only continue if we continue to sustain what our program has done, and I think that consistency is why there has been attention on our program.
Will you comment on the young linebackers?
I really like the next wave on linebackers. The four players, when you put out there are fun to watch. There is Iona Pritchard and his running mate inside is Spencer Hadley then on the edges are Daniel Sorensen and Mike Alisa, and those four are freshman linebackers. If we were able to recruit linebackers like that here at BYU it would be a great future defensively for our program. It is fun to see them out there all at the same time. There are not all the way assignment sound and not all the way secure in what they are doing, but they are fast and athletic, and they like to play.
With three blocked kicks in four games have you set any expectation internally?
I think Jan Jorgensen said it best, and it got back to me, that we would like our opponents to know that if we don’t block it they are going to miss it.
Of your three opponents many players have walked off the field because of collision injuries, and hard hits. How important is it to you that you are known as a team that hits hard?
It is my favorite part. That is one of the great things about playing football. We practice in a very unique way and we like to build up to Saturday so that aggression can come out on that day through all the skills sets they have developed. One of the reasons that I coach is that I like to see the physical aspects of the game, and as a defensive coach I think that is what wins and loses games. That is why I am so encouraged by our fronts and how they are playing.
Can you address Max Hall’s play with third-down conversion rates he is at 78 percent?
It is phenomenal in terms of third-down. I think we have a unique way to practice and the offense has done an outstanding job of knowing exactly where the ball should go and to whom. The precision on that down is allowing us to move the chains at an unparalleled level. If I was a defense coach playing against it, there is only so much you can do to keep your defense motivated after third down, after third down, after third down is converted. Then you have to guess your way into making plays and when you guess frequently, you give up points. So you might stop conversions occasionally, but if you core defense won’t do it that leads to volatility and I think that is what we are starting to see.