Cougars Using Extra Time to Heal and Develop

After playing eight games into the season's schedule, this week's bye comes at a good time for a Cougar squad looking to heal up. It also gives the coaches a little extra time to review past performances and polish up schemes, individual technique and personal conditioning.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done with the 3-5 Cougars, and no one understands that more than head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who views the timing of the bye week as being a positive.

"Every year I'm asked if it's at a good time, and you just make it a good time," said Mendenhall. "You can't control it and you try to work on the things your team needs during that time, so yeah, I think we'll make it a good time.

"It's a chance to see some work, healing up some of the older [injuries] but still getting a bunch of work in against ourselves, so the last two days have been good."

One of those guys in need of some healing, even if it's minor, is quarterback Jake Heaps.

"It's been good for me," Heaps said. "They've pulled me back a little bit in practice, but for the most part I'm still getting three-fourths of the reps out there. The coaches want me to sit back and take more mental reps. Physically, they just want me to hang back a little bit and heal up a wing a little bit and all that good stuff."

"We have a few guys with dings and hurt shoulders," tight end Richard Wilson said. "It's a good time to get healed up and try to finish up the season strong with some healthy guys."

Healing up players while still developing the team is a tough balancing act for the coaches.

"There has been some injuries and the coaches want us to heal up, but at the same time you don't want to waste the bye week by taking it off," said Eathyn Manumaleuna. "Coach Mendenhall is balancing it to where we have to work hard to better ourselves while letting guys heal up.

"It feels less stressful now, but at the same time we're still working hard. We're still working hard but kind of in a different way now. We're still doing the normal things like running to the ball and finishing and all that stuff, but it feels like we're kind of laying off of the contact and physical part. Mostly we're focusing on film and mental reps while at the same time lifting hard and running hard."

The extra time this week is also being used to develop certain aspects of the team, including the offense.

"It gives us a chance to refocus on some things," said Heaps. "We still have to get better and we're going to use this opportunity to get better and we're going to be smart with the time we have. I think we've pushed it a little bit harder than we have in the past with our first-team guys, but at the same time we're still pulling back. I think it's a very good balance with how we're doing things."

"Really, the coaches just want us to keep competing this week and continue to get better," said Wilson. "The coaches just want to see another week where we continue to get better so we'll be ready to play in two weeks. So one of the main emphases is continuing to compete to get better in some areas where we might have struggled a bit."

The defense won't get into analyzing film on UNLV until later this week. Instead, they've been reviewing film of themselves.

"Later this week we will focus more on UNLV," Manumaleuna said. "Right now we're just focusing on ourselves. We're going back over our technique and trying to clean up some of those things, the little stuff here and there. And we're doing that on both sides of the ball. On defense we're going back over and looking at what we've done well and how we can use this extra time to fix some things we need to work on. It feels good this week. I mean, it feels like a bye week but it also feels like we're getting a lot of good work in. It's been good."

The offense, on the other hand, has already taken a little time to delve into UNLV film during this bye week.

"Yeah, we've already started watching film on UNLV a little bit, but mainly the emphasis has been focusing on us getting better," Wilson said. "Coaches want us to work on competing and being better at executing individually. There are some things we need to fix, and so this is a good week to do it. Hopefully the extra time will help us get those things fixed by next week and we'll be ready to go."

One thing that needs to be fixed is the passing game. Lately, the Cougars have had to rely mostly on their rushing game to move the ball and score points.

"Yeah, I think we've established the run foundation part game of our offense and no defense likes to get ran over for 200 yards," said Braden Brown. "I think going into our next few games, teams are going to pride themselves on trying to hold us from doing that. Not only are we going to need to be on top of our game in our run game, but we're also going to need to further develop our passing game and get that going too."

With a run foundation in place, this week allows the coaches to take some extra time in focusing on cleaning up the passing game.

"Yeah, I think now that we've established that we can run the ball, it's going to give Jake and our receivers more opportunity to throw the ball a little bit better," said Brown. "The extra time is going to give Jake and the skill guys more time to work on some things and further develop chemistry. So that's something we've been working on and are trying to clean up. We've gone back and looked at game film from this year and seeing what's been working and what's not been working and building on that."

"We've definitely have gone under center more because the run game has been more of the strength of our offense," Heaps said. "Obviously, we're coming up with more pass concepts from the I-formation and under-center stuff. We've been focusing more on the passing game from under center and really our overall passing game to make sure we're getting better. I think we've done a really good job with that part of the focus during this week, and it's been a lot of fun trying to better develop that side of our offense."

Cougar offensive coaches have reviewed a lot of film to better gauge what has and hasn't worked well in the passing game for this young offense.

"When we look at film, we've looked at the passing game," said Brown. "We've looked at how play action passes have been successful for us. Quick passing games have been successful for us, and so we're trying to build on that. We're trying to develop more schemes out of having that as the base of our passing game. We're just working together as an offense getting the patterns down, building chemistry, and giving the quarterback more time has been something that's been emphasized to us."

"I think there's a lot of aspects that we can improve on and a lot of good things that we need to continue polishing up," said Heaps. "I think the coaches are doing a good job with how we're handling this bye week. The coaches are doing a good job with us and I'm really happy with how many reps we're getting with some specific things in the passing game we need to work on."

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