Fall practice: day seven

On Saturday the Cougars held their first full-length scrimmage of the fall in front of an estimated 7,000-to-7,500 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The coaches came away impressed with the turnout and happy with the team's progress, but the first significant injury of the offseason put a damper on the day.

From this observer's standpoint, the fan turnout on Saturday for the football team's scrimmage seemed larger than any in recent years. In fact, my initial thought upon arriving at the stadium and seeing all the cars was that some other big event must be going on somewhere on campus, and Coach Mendenhall said after the scrimmage that he had the same reaction.

"I've never seen an opening scrimmage with this much support, attention, excitement," said Mendenhall.

Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman echoed Mendenhall's sentiment.

"It's so fun to be a BYU Cougar right now and to be a part of this football program. The interest from our fans, the fact that they came out today like they did – they came out more today than I've seen in a spring game – it was really fun to be a part of, and I'm glad they feel that way, and we're motivated to make it fun for them."

Following the scrimmage, Mendenhall said his team is farther along than what one week into fall camp would normally show.

Unfortunately, while the Cougars had been able to remain relatively healthy throughout the offseason, Saturday's scrimmage saw the team's first major injury, and it came on the opening kickoff. Sophomore fullback Iona Pritchard dislocated his ankle and fractured his fibula, and will require surgery. He will likely be out for six weeks. If there is a silver lining in all this, it's that he still has a redshirt available.

Coach Mendenhall said that the staff believed he was the next version of Manase Tonga and that they were going to depend on him heavily.

"It's a big loss because of how he's played already in fall camp, and we were very, very excited about him and what that could do for our offense," Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall appeared to be in awe when describing how Pritchard apologized to him for getting hurt, with Mendenhall simply shaking his head and saying that it was "amazing."

A playmaking fullback – like Manase Tonga – that is not only a good blocker but a threat to run or catch the ball is one of the few missing elements from BYU's offense right now. Fortunately, Mendenhall said they are deep at running back, and mentioned that Michael Alisa has been cross-trained at fullback.

BYU's new-look offense

Coach Mendenhall had good things to say about the offense under the direction of Coach Doman.

"I just like the style of play," Mendenhall said. "I like the run and play action mix, with then the chance to spread out and throw the football. We're very versatile, and we have the weapons – I'm impressed with the talent we have – to be able to pull off the balance that we have."

As for Doman himself, he said he was really pleased after Saturday's scrimmage. While there were errors, he said he was happy that they were simply mental errors that could be cleaned up, as opposed to physical errors. One such error was Jake Heaps missing on a touchdown pass on a play that had just been installed for Saturday's scrimmage.

Doman said he opted to call plays from down on the field instead of from the press box for several reasons.

"We got a couple new coaches on staff that haven't been on the sideline with us before, our quarterback's still young, and I think we have the best press box coach in America in Lance Reynolds," said Doman. "He's really good at it, he provides me the exact right information that I need at the right moment, he's savvy. And so the combination of him up there providing me the information, [and] the stability I can provide for the quarterback on the sideline, I think has a chance to be a really good combination."

Scrimmage stats

Heaps completed 7-of-9 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown. His touchdown toss went to McKay Jacobson, who finished with two catches for 21 yards and the one score.

Riley Nelson went 4-of-6 for 52 yards. James Lark missed on both of his passes, and Jason Munns went 2-of-4 for 20 yards.

Bryan Kariya rushed five times for 23 yards, while J.J. Di Luigi rushed three times for 22 yards. Di Luigi also had one catch for 10 yards.

Among the others that got in the mix were Marcus Mathews finishing with two catches for 44 yards, Austin Holt catching one pass for 14 yards, Richard Wilson catching a pass for 14 yards, and J.D. Falslev getting two catches for 30 yards.

Notes

- BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson was among those in attendance at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

- Mendenhall singled out the offensive line and running backs as the position groups that impressed him most on Saturday, and when asked to give his opinion on which specific players stood out, he gave credit to Heaps and Preston Hadley.

- Quarterback Riley Nelson, as he did during a few scrimmages last year, wore the standard blue jersey instead of the normal green jersey that quarterbacks wear. However, Nelson was only made ‘live' (meaning players were allowed to tackle him) on one play. For the rest of the scrimmage, the whistle was blown when defenders got close to him, just as was done with all other quarterbacks.

Nelson's role this year could expand beyond that of a typical second-string quarterback, as he actually saw some punt coverage duty during the scrimmage, and could likely be used on offense in certain situations as a change-of-pace quarterback, perhaps running wildcat packages or providing a mobile threat in the red zone. "He's a guy that needs to be used in this offense," said Doman. "He's athletic, and we're gradually putting things in, but he's a guy that in some way, shape or form needs to be utilized and help this offense do some things."

- True freshman Colby Jorgensen was once again wearing a sling.


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