(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
The following comments are from head coach Bronco Mendenhall's Thursday post-practice press briefing; including comments from sophomore running back Jamaal Williams and junior linebacker Alani Fua.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall:
It was good to be back with the players today. They are mid-finals still with some players with finals today and some players with finals tomorrow. While they are anxious to get back to practice, it’s clear that their mind isn’t all the way there in managing finals. But they are anxious to play and it’s fun to get started again and preparing for an opponent.
Is it more ideal to have bowl games before or after Christmas?
They both have advantages. It’s fun to have games before Christmas so that you can have Christmas with your family but that means that you take finals before anyone else takes finals with less preparation and that has affected our players’ grade point averages on a pretty clear level. This way is nice because there was more time last week when most of their projects were due and they had a chance to do that when we weren’t practicing. I think it is better academically and then we will make the most of the holiday season and Christmas time in a pretty unique setting so we’ll have to manage that as best we can.
How much are you veering from your pre-bowl model?
I’m not; we have the same number of practices and the exact same number of days in pads or no pads. The intent is to simply build a team that wants to play and looking forward to playing rather than enduring practice to finally get to the game. It’s what I think works best here and I think past record has shown that it has. Whether it will work with this team or not, you know each team is different and hopefully it is the right model.
A year after the offensive staff changes, what is your level of satisfaction with the offense?
I’m encouraged; it’s still a work in progress, but encouraged. The team is united in terms of expectation, effort, toughness, practice standard and commitment. On top of that, the staff is united in relation to the direction and goals that I have for the program. I think we have [improved] and the statistical numbers in many cases bare that out against better opponents. Those indicators to me show progress and certainly there is a lot of room to grow and improve.
How healthy is the team going into the bowl game?
The team looked about the same to me as it did before. I was expecting a significant transformation in the guys that were hurt but they are still looking like they are at the end of a season even though it’s after a break. Maybe my opinion will change tomorrow or the day after tomorrow in watching them practice but they looked about the same to me.
What do you attribute to the success you’ve had in bowl games?
I attribute the success to emphasis. There is a choice that most of us make, is it a reward or is it a proving ground, and if you can do both, great. You love to see your players have a great time and then have them be mature enough when it comes time to work that they switch gears. I’ve probably erred on the side of proving ground rather than reward. Whether that’s appreciated during the time, I don’t know. Hopefully when they [the players] leave they have good memories from their last game. We’ve won six of eight and my regret is that we haven’t won eight of eight, and I’ve made it clear that I want to win the game for the program and for them.
On preparing differently for Washington because they have an interim head coach:
They’re a good team and I’m not sure we can count on any kind of change; I think they are going to be at their best and anything less than that will be a surprise. The four teams that they have lost to are all top-20 teams; they score a lot of points and they are hard to score on defensively. I’d say it’s a significant test. Like I said, it’ll be the best bowl opponent and that’s fun. I like playing better opponents and that kind of signifies progress in a different kind of way.
On Washington’s running back Bishop Sankey
He’s got 1,800 yards in a tough league, I don’t know really what else to say. He’s really good.
Sophomore running back Jamaal Williams:
How has the team used the break and was that break needed?
We used the break to lift and to condition so that we could stay in shape. It was a good break and it was a good time to go away from football for just a little bit and get our mindset ready for the bowl game. The break was what we really needed to get our bodies healthy and now we are ready to go.
Reaction to playing Washington in the bowl game:
It’s a good school. I watched them when they played Washington State and they are a great team. They give effort every time they go out there; special teams, offense, defense and on every play. It will be a great test for us.
Junior linebacker Alani Fua:
On winning the bowl game of the season:
When you lose the last game of the year, it’s one of those things that you remember most clearly from the previous year. So when you are tired out there, wanting to win helps you remember that you are a good team and that you can win it.
What do you expect to see out of the Washington offense?
They are going to go to their running back a lot and attack us on the outside with their screens because they have some good outside receivers. If we can stop those two things, we’ll put ourselves in a good position to win the game.