Scrimmage: Defense Impress; Offense Felt Oppressed

The referees were there with whistles and striped jerseys. The BYU football team went at it hard and often as the defense barraged the Cougar offense with all manner of blitzes and defensive looks. If you had to declare a winner, chalk up the first full practice scrimmage yesterday as a "win" for the defense.

Quarterback Matt Berry took the field in command against Bronco Mendenhall's expectedly stiff and unpredictable defense that delivered. On the first snap, defensive end Brady Poppinga was able to get outside with a speed rush to force a quick whistle by the referees. Not a good start for the offense. It didn't take Berry long to right the ship on the first possession series.

Berry hit receiver Rod Wilkerson for the first completion of the series, then another 15-yard to wide-out Chris Hale. Following a defensive stop of running back Fahu Tahi, Berry made a nice screen pass to Wilkerson who showed his speed by beating the defense down the sideline for the first touchdown of the scrimmage. It was a good day yesterday for speedster Wilkerson.

Getting reps with the second team offense, quarterback John Beck used his mobility to find throwing lanes, escape the grasps of defenders and showed his arm strength by throwing on the run. Beck seemed to prefer moving outside the pocket more and had some success doing so.

After a swing pass to running back Reynaldo Braithwaite for about 8-yards, Beck completed passes to fullback Kyle Wilson out of the backfield. Two plays later, Beck found streaking tight end Jeremy Gillespie for a 20-yard reception. Gillespie then bull-rushed a defensive back for a hard-fought touchdown.

In the third series, Beck was once again at the helm commanding the offense. After a 14-yard swing pass to Braithwaite, wide receiver Brett Cooper made arguably the best catch of the scrimmage. Scrambling out of the pocket, Beck threw the ball towards the end zone, where Cooper made an outstanding one-handed catch just short of the goal line for a touchdown.

With the first and second string offenses seemingly in control, Mendenhall's defense began to step it up in subsequent series. Kip Neilson recorded the first interception on a tipped ball. On the very next play, Katback Jared Meibos read the offense perfectly and intercepted an uncontested Berry pass for a defensive touchdown.

The defensive onslaught was stopped briefly with a sizzling 40-yard touchdown run by Marcus Whalen. It was a run off tackle with offensive lineman Jake Kuresa and fullback Fui Vakapuna providing outstanding blocks as Whalen broke free of three separate tacklers and outran the secondary.

The next series went nowhere as the defense jumped all over the running plays and Poppinga finished up the series with another sack.

Beck took the field again and was promptly sacked by defensive end John Denney. On the next play, he hit receiver Marc Hansen on a 15-yard out pattern followed by another 11-yard out pattern to sure-handed Jason Kukahiko. He followed with several incomplete passes, but came back strong hitting wide-out David Christensen for a 10-yard pass after being flushed out of the pocket by linebacker K.C. Bills. The offense then scored on an 8-yard pass to fullback Wilson out of the backfield.

Berry then settled down a bit on the next series. He completed successive passes to tight end Daniel Coats and receiver Chris Hale, each for about 10 yards respectively. A sack by defensive end Bill Wright put the offense back on its heels, followed by an outstanding knockdown by Chad Barney across the middle defending a slant pattern. Berry's next pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage and picked off by Meibos.

On the next series, linebackers Mike Tanner and Levi Madarieta flushed Berry out of the pocket, sacking him for a big loss. Berry then hit Hale for a 10-yard gain, but the drive ended with another sack by Tanner.

Quarterback Todd Mortensen then took the field for the next few series. The third string team offense didn't see the end zone save for Vakapuna's outstanding 32-yard touchdown run. Vakapuna lined up as a tailback and dragged defensive backs into the end zone on the play. Subsequent sacks were made by Brett Denney, Daniel Marquardt and James Allen. Allen also sped around the edge, causing a fumble that was recovered by the offense.

One of the more entertaining plays of the afternoon came on a Mortensen pass to receiver Cody Fonnesbeck on a fly pattern. Fonnesbeck's defender, speedster Nate Soelberg, was left on an island to defend him and was step for step with the speedy Fonnesbeck and knocked the ball away.

Mortensen concluded his final series with a touchdown drive that included nice grabs by Wilkerson and tight end Phillip Niu, ending with 20-yard fade pass to Wilkerson in the back of the end zone.

Beck retook the field against the first team defense. Whalen had a couple of short yardage runs followed by a diving catch by Hale across the middle that went for a first down. Beck was then sacked by Madarieta and Neilson.

Beck came back completing a 10-yard pass to receiver Toby Christensen followed by an incompletion and a screen to Hale that went for no yardage. Whalen was then caught behind the line of scrimmage by a rushing Tanner, followed by a sack by Wright and a fumbled snap that Wright recovered.

Overall, the scrimmage was ruled by the defense as expected in early fall practice. The offense was very much on its heels all day as the defensive pressure was fast and furious. All quarterbacks looked flustered, despite some success.

Statistically, Beck had the best day of the quarterbacks. He completed 9 of 16 for 99 yards; Berry completed 7 of 15 for 94 yards; Mortensen completed 8-14 for 72 yards; and Jackson Brown completed 1 for 6 for seven yards.

Whalen led all rushers with five carries for 53 yards, with one long run for 45 yards; Vakapuna 4 for 41 yards, with his longest run of 38 yards; Brathwaite was 4-41 yards; Curtis Brown was 6 for 11 yards; and Tahi was 3 carries for -2 yards.

On the receiving end, Wilkerson led everyone with 4 completions for 86 yards and two touchdowns; Gillespie was 3 for 47 yards and one touchdown; Hale was 5 for 41 yards. Other receivers who caught at least one pass included Brown, Brathwaite, Hansen, Olomua, Toby Christensen, David Christensen, Tahi, Kukahiko, Coats, Hadfield and Wilson.

Defensively, Poppinga and Madarieta led with two sacks apiece, while Meibos and Neilson registered a game-high two interceptions each. Other Cougars with sacks included Wright, Denney, Ifo Pili, Tanner and Marquardt.

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