Televised nationally by ESPN, the Thursday matchup with CSU looms larger for both MWC teams that have each lost at least one conference game. A loss Thursday could take the loser out of conference title contention and both coaches know it.
"It just means it's a big game," said Crowton. "People think that BYU and CSU are both going to be up there as one of the top teams of the conference every year, and I think that's good. I like being on TV."
Crowton added the abbreviated practice schedule means the Cougars "have to get more done in less time and then you have less time to recover (injuries). We don't practice on Sunday, which is a good thing. We have to combine Monday and Tuesday's practice today so this will be our most physical practice. Then, tomorrow (Tuesday) we'll combine a Wednesday and Thursday practice – and we'll only go helmets tomorrow unless I see something today that makes me change. We're trying to eliminate the hitting, but get the reps in so we know what we're doing."
BYU's woeful running game in the first five games was turned around somewhat with a total of 238 rushing yards against San Diego State last Saturday. It was the first time since the Colorado State game in 2001 that BYU gained more yards on the ground than passing.
"I felt like our running game was getting better. I didn't feel like it was very good in that Stanford game, but I didn't really emphasize it as much and we've played some real tough defenses with a lot guys up front. So we threw a little more early in the season in those first few games. I knew it was getting better. I could see it in practice and hopefully it will continue to get better throughout the year," Crowton continued.
Notably, Reynaldo Brathwaite's yard run in the second quarter against the Aztecs was the longest touchdown run and the longest run from the line of scrimmage in BYU history. Brathwaite's run also tied the record for the longest run in the MWC.
Speedy freshman running back Thomas Stancil also got game time experience with his first opportunity to run the ball.
"He's kind of playing that flanker a little bit. He's got good hands and he is just a play maker so we're going to try and work him in more and more," Crowton said.
He also commented on the improved play by the Cougars special teams. With a game opening 49-yard kickoff return, Brett Cooper returned the longest kick return since Luke Staley recorded a 49 yard return against Utah State in 2001. He finished the night with four returns for 154 yards.
"Cooper's doing a good job," said Crowton. "He's going to see more and more time too, and I've been happy with him. Kick returns were really good. James Allen was on the kickoff team earlier and doing a good job, but he's playing so much defense now. He wasn't a starter earlier. Now he's a starter on defense and we took him off … Ray (Brathwaite) was the same way. Ray was on there first and when Marcus got hurt he became the starter."
Crowton challenged his special teams to make a difference against SDSU and it showed. "We challenged our guys to really have some yards in our return game. That was one of the big challenges I made to the special teams because I thought our protection game has been real good, but our return game is just very average. It was good to see that. Hopefully, we can continue to do well. The timing is getting better."
Meanwhile the BYU offensive line only gave up one sack against the No. 4 nationally-ranked Aztec defense.
"Quinn's (Christensen) is playing good at tackle and Ofa's (Mohetau) doing a good job. Eddie (Keele) is a good football player, even though he's not starting. He's going to be the future and I think a great player for us, but the combination of having a veteran, a young guy, a veteran, a young guy, and a veteran (lined up in that order) has really helped us up front."
On the play of his true freshman quarterback John Beck, Crowton said he had grown tremendously in the quarterback position. He answered the most pressing question of the day regarding Matt Berry's scheduled return as a starter from injury.
"Berry got cleared by the doctor, but I don't know where he can throw it. I'm going into this game as if Beck's going to be the guy, and try and bring Berry up. If anything changes in the week, I'll let you know, but just based on where his hand is I think that is what we have to do. Berry will be ready for the Wyoming game to start, but right now going into this game, Beck will be the starter and Berry will be the back up. Todd Mortensen will probably be the back up based on how well Berry progresses through the week."
During today's practice, Berry received lots of reps and threw the ball well to receivers. Crowton will continue to watch his development and monitor his progression and timing as the week progresses.
Defensive tackle Manaia Brown fully participated in practice today as did linebacker Levi Madarieta. Crowton confirmed that Brown was really sick when he had a shot to relieve his shoulder pains before Saturday's game against SDSU. "He was really sick before the game. He tried to go. He warmed up and everything, but he just couldn't and wasn't going to be worth a darn. He wanted to play and was just sick. Hopefully he won't get sick again."
Cougarback Aaron Francisco also suited up today and playing despite a stinger he suffered during the SDSU game. Also back in action was linebacker Bryant Atkinson playing alongside K.C. Bills on the second team defense. Offensively, starting running back Marcus Whalen received full reps. Brathwaite did not suit up because of a hobbled ankle. Back-up cornerback Nathan Soelberg was also cleared to play and suited up today for practice.
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