Scrimmage evaluations

The Cougar wide receivers frustrated the defensive backs Thursday in a setting in which the gloves came off and players were allowed to hit without having to fear being sent to the locker room. With hitting being allowed, it was the offense that hit the defense – a defense with a lot of experienced depth – in the mouth both on the ground and through the air.

Expect the defense to take offense and bounce back from the way they played in their first full-contact scrimmage.

"I just want to get back in and look at the film," said Mike Hague, who did a great job of fielding questions while feeling angry about Thursday's performance.

The passing game's success – yes, there were failures as well, but not enough to make the secondary feel good about itself – was set up by one specific factor.

"I think we just ran the ball well and it kept the DBs – I don't really know how to put it – true." said J.D. Falslev, who hooked up with Riley Nelson to score the first touchdown of the scrimmage. "I think we just caught the ball well today and ran some good routes."

Falslev is right. It was the running game that set up the passing game that produced two touchdowns through the air. In addition to Falslev's touchdown, Terenn Houk caught a for a 37-yard touchdown pass from Taysom Hill.

What was even more impressive about the offensive pass-catching success was the fact that the offense did without wide receiver stars Ross Apo and Cody Hoffman. Despite the success the receivers had, there is a grey area in all of this, and it's that there hasn't really been a wide receiver that's stepped up and taken ownership of the fourth receiver spot.

"I would say that I don't think that anybody has completely risen maybe like I wish they would have at this point," said Coach Doman openly. "There are a few guys that are showing great signs and abilities."

Those that Coach Doman spoke of are a few new players that have been evaluated and reported here at Total Blue Sports as players with future impact potential.

"There are a few guys that are showing great signs and abilities to do things," said Coach Doman. "Maybe some are surprise – not surprises but new guys – that can help us is some ways. One of those guys is Alex Kuresa, and I just think he'll be a threat when he's on the field because of his athleticism.

"The other guy that I think can really do some good things for us is Mitch Mathews. He's tall and a rangy player with good speed and a lot of potential and athleticism, so he's a guy that because of those attributes can do a lot of things. We have him on the outside, which says a lot about his ability to catch and run with the ball."

While there is a mix of proven talent on the starting offense and a handful of guys just on the verge of breaking through, many have wondered about getting the ball to them. In other words, speculation on how much senior quarterback Riley Nelson has developed his arm strength and related passing abilities.

"I worked mostly on my feet in the offseason, just kind of being more balanced," said Nelson. "As I evaluated film from last year, anytime there was an error in my throwing it wasn't so much my arm or anything like that. It was my feet, whether timing or balance. It was one of those two things. I feel good and feel that the ball is coming out of my hands more consistently than ever before."

While Nelson's accuracy and arm strength are about the same as last year, an improved running game – both in power and speed – will aid in keeping passing defenses off balance.

"The offense had success on the ground and that got us a little off balanced, and it was hard to recover because our guys were trying to handle both," said Hague.

Nelson's success as a passing quarterback will increase this year simply because of an improved running game.

"Dave Foote will prove to be a versatile asset in the pass game and the run game," Nelson said. "Mike [Alisa] is who he is and we already know what he can do. I feel he is best with the ball under his arm, and having that threat of downhill runners coming out of the backfield will keep defenses honest like we saw today."

If Adam Hine and Jamaal Williams can continue to do what they did Thursday, then the field will continue to open up in the passing game. Having two speedsters like Hine and Williams in the backfield provides a much wider range of problems for defense trying to defend both the passing game and the run game.

Running back tandem

Williams is talented, there's no doubt about that. The kid can run. There are a few impressive points of interest with Williams. First of all, the fact that he's only 17 years old, yet doesn't play like a young man not old enough to vote yet, is impressive. But why? Well, generally freshmen – who are receiving their first taste of big-time Division I football – have a little bit of tentativeness that needs to be overcome.

That generally comes with time as they get their feet wet and build confidence through success. Not with Williams. The young man has no fear, as though he knew exactly what he was going to do on day one. He runs with confidence, boldness – how many true freshman running backs have the moxie to flash a high-step juke move before opening up the spigot valve of speed to blow past a pursuing defender – and has the speed and strength to break tackles.

The question now is could he do that against BYU's first-team defense? Or would it be best to redshirt Williams a year? Only Williams will keep Williams off the field this year.

Hine also moved up the ladder after Thursday's performance. It was five months ago in this exact same stadium that Hine was rendered unconscious after a hard hit by a defender. On Thursday Hine showed flashes of what Cougar fans have hoped for in him: a speedy back that can both run inside and out, a threat to break a long one with every carry of the ball. The Cougars haven't had that since Rey Braithwaite and Marcus Whalen in 2003. If Hine and Williams can continue to grow, especially in pass protection and receiving, the two could become a very dynamic combination for years to come. So, does that start now or later, and does it need to happen now or later? That remains to be seen.

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