PROVO -- The Cougars migrated from their regular practice facility to the friendly confines of LaVell Edwards Stadium on Wednesday to participate in their first Fall Camp scrimmage. Coaches took advantage of the opportunity to look at various personnel and evaluate the different units during the 90-play scrimmage.
"I saw good effort and good hustle, and guys who want to be good," BYU head coach Gary Crowton said. "I didn't see a lax in effort. Overall, we were just trying to get a good look at some of the guys out there today. I saw some things I liked. And, I saw some things I didn't like. I think our rhythm is getting closer, but it's not where I want it to be at this point. We've got a lot of work to do, but it is still relatively early."
As expected, the defense performed with intensity and was able to come up with several big plays. All totaled, Cougar defenders produced seven sacks, including a team-leading two takedowns for a combined loss on nine yards by redshirt freshman Daniel Marquardt. Juniors Paul Walkenhorst and Moa Peaua, along with freshmen Bryant Atkinson and Jake Kuresa were each credited with a sack. Atkinson also came up with the only interception of the scrimmage. Senior defender Todd Barker also got his hands on a Matt Payne field goal attempt, blocking the 35-yard attempt.
"Defensively, I liked the fire," Crowton added. "I thought they tackled better than they did last year in the first scrimmage we had. For the most part there weren?t a lot of missed tackles. They got to the ball. I can see that we have more quickness this year than last year. I thought the line did a better job of keeping the offensive linemen off the backers so the backers could move. I just thought they had a lot of heart in the scrimmage today."
Offensively, the Cougars completed 26-of-47 (.553) attempts for 242 yards. Junior quarterback Bret Engemann led the way, completing 11-of-19 (.580) attempts for 90 yards, including the offensive highlight of the game -- a 41-yard pass to sophomore receiver David Christensen. Christensen caught the ball on (or near) the 30 yard line and streaked towards the endzone. He was caught from behind by outside linebacker Levi Madarieta and brought down at the one yard line. On the next play from scrimmage, sophomore running back Marcus Whalen punched the ball in for the first of two rushing touchdowns on the day.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Berry, who saw reps with the second-team unit, connected on 4-of-7 (.571) attempts for 38 yards, while junior Todd Mortensen was credited with 31 yards on 4-of-8 (.500) attempts. Lance Pendleton totaled 23 yards on 3-of-5 (.600) attempts, showing his speed and agility as well. Running the first-team offense, Pendleton scrambled for a 20-yard gain in the first period, converting on a key fourth-and-eight situation.
True freshman Ben Olsen also saw considerable playing time, completing 4-of-8 attempts for 60 yards. Olsen also had one carry for a nine-yard gain.
"I felt like we were able to make some plays on offense," Crowton said. "We only played about a quarter and a half with the first team, and we were able to score two touchdowns, so I feel good about that. However, I felt like we were also a little off at times. Sometimes we just didn't make the plays we needed to, and sometimes we did. It's still early. There's just a little bit still missing, but we have more practices and we will get it down. Overall it's nice to see where we are at this point."
With as many as seven different guys competing for time at running back, Crowton wanted to give each player crucial reps during practice. Whalen however, saw limited action.
"I didn't play Marcus (Whalen) very much," Crowton said. "I just let him do a little bit, just to get in some reps, and to get a feel for it. I want to make sure he's healthy and ready to go."
True freshman Curtis Brown had a good afternoon, and along with sophomore Jared Harper, caught the attention of their coach.
"I think Curtis Brown is coming along very well and is doing some good things," Crowton said. I thought he did a nice job out there today. I also thought Jared Harper had a nice afternoon. He's a big kid, and kind of deceptive. He's had some problems with injury and I wanted to get a good look at him. I was pleased with what I saw."
Harper had two carries for a team-leading 17 yards, but also played a key roll in pass protection. Whalen had five carries for seven yards, including a one-yard touchdown run. Logan Deans posted seven yards on two carries and was also credited with a one-yard touchdown run. True freshman Travonne Jackson saw considerable time, recording five carries on the afternoon.
Asked if anyone had solidified their position amongst the running backs, Crowton said he has yet to make any decisions.
"We know Marcus is going to be the starter," Crowton said. "Beyond that, we are still trying to evaluate various things. I do feel like we're going to have a good group of backs -- there's no question about that. Some of these new guys are going to be pretty good. We won't make a determination on that until two-a-days are over. We want to give everyone a good look."
One of the primary concerns for the coaching staff, entering the scrimmage, is keeping injuries to a minimum. On Wednesday, both the offense and defense came out relatively unscathed.
"We came out of the scrimmage healthy, which was a huge concern from me," Crowton said. "I gave the first-team offense and defense more reps than I originally wanted to, just because of the fact that I wanted to get them ready for game-like conditions."
Entering the scrimmage Crowton said he would use the session to help make determinations on such things as who would backup Engemann at quarterback, who would be the No. 2 running back behind Whalen, take a look at additional depth along the offensive line, address the cornerback situation and who would fit in to the mix at safety alongside Aaron Francisco.
"I need to go watch the film," Crowton said. "I have been giving a lot of guys some reps so I can go back and look at them on tape. But, I haven't made any decisions on any of that right now. We are going to take our time on this and make good decisions. We still have plenty of opportunities to evaluate guys. We've improved in a lot of areas, including our speed and depth. So, we want to make sure we have the right guys out there in the right situations."
BYU officials have indicated season-ticket sales are on the rise. As of Aug. 13, the BYU ticket office reported that they had sold almost 29,000 season-tickets. With season ticket totals nearing 30,000, the ticket office is reporting an increase of more than 2,500 season tickets sold over last year's totals.