BYU Offense Kicks a Little Butt in Scrimmage

While BYU's more potent aerial attack has emerged the most compelling story in fall camp, the biggest upside for the Cougars this season may be the impact and effectiveness of its running attack. And while the starring running backs snare the stats and headlines, the credit belongs squarely on the hefty shoulders of <b>Jeff Grimes'</b> young offensive line.

"When you get the ball outside to guys on one-on-one coverages, it forces defenses to not put as many guys in the box," head coach Gary Crowton said after practice. "Hopefully we can get more of that to open the running game from guys like Todd (Watkins), Austin Collie, Antwaun Harris and B.J. Mathis. Those guys help to really open up the running lanes."

Clearly, the offensive line's run-blocking effectiveness over the past few days is seemingly superior to last season, consistently creating gaps on short-yardage situations where they were mostly ineffective in 2003.

Jake Kuresa, a sophomore offensive guard mainstay, noted "we're moving the line forward a lot better than we were at this time last year. Today I thought we did a pretty good job of opening up holes for the running backs. When you're going as hard as we were today, you tend to miss blocking assignments and responsibilities more. That's something we need to work on to improve, but I think we're coming together great."

His position coach Grimes agreed – at least until he viewed the videotape of today's scrimmage.

"I think the guys, overall, are competing. They gave a good effort today. It's hard for me to say right now how well we did. I'm watching five guys on every play, so it's hard for me to say until I watch the film. Sometimes I leave the field mad until I watch the film and then realize my guys actually did pretty good. Other times, I leave the field feeling good about what they did and then I watch the film and realize that it's just the opposite," Grimes said.

One thing Grimes has stressed emphatically to his young charges is aggressiveness. "That's definitely one thing I've focused on and I think they're doing a good job of that," Grimes confirmed. "The biggest reason I focus so much on effective run-blocking is that I think it teaches them toughness. Whether it's running the ball or passing it, I want us to be dominant up front. Practicing run-blocking teaches them how to be tough and how to finish plays. That's why I focus on that so much. So yeah, we're making progress. The progress we made over the spring has carried over to where we are now and I like where we're headed.

Kuresa concurred. "We want to be dominant. Like coach Grimes tells us, we want to keep on pounding and pounding away on the defense until we break their will. We don't want to necessarily break our own defense's will, but we want to get that mentality so we can do that when the season starts. We have a great defense. We know those guys are good, so any success we have against them means a lot."

Quarterback John Beck and wide receiver Todd Watkins kicked off Tuesday morning's practice scrimmage on an electrifying, crowd-pleasing 70-yard touchdown bomb. It's become almost commonplace for the two to connect on deep balls at least once or twice each day in practice. Cornerback Nathan Soelberg was actually step-for-step in decent coverage, but Watkins caught the ball in stride on the fly pattern he ran into the end zone.

"It's not the game plan to start out like that," Watkins said afterward. "We just take what the defense gives us and we just happened to have that play open, I guess. It may look like we're making an effort to start out every scrimmage like that, but that's not the case. It's just been open and we've taken it. When people take me one-on-one, I take it personally and John (Beck), I think, knows that. I want to beat them bad when they try and cover me one-on-one," he said.

Crowton explained it simply: "It was a play-action pass that we've been able to connect on. When we get that one-on-one coverage to the outside, then you want to take advantage of it. We've done alright in that so far."

The next series of downs saw Beck with the first-teamers. On the first play from scrimmage, running back Curtis Brown busted one open for a 30-yard gain behind Kuresa and Scott Young.

Wide receiver Jason Kukahiko and running back Naufahu Tahi followed up with short pass receptions to keep the drive alive. On the pass to Tahi, Beck went through three progressions to get him the ball in the flat for a short gainer. After a fumbled snap, Beck scrambled for a 7-yard run, followed up by a short 4-yard pass again to Kukahiko.

The defense ended the drive with a quarterback sack by defensive tackle Justin Carlson-Maddux and katback Jon Burbidge. On a third and long, Beck was hurried and threw an interception to Soelberg in the back of the end zone. Beck completed 11 of 18 passes for 142 yards and one touchdown. He also had two interceptions and was sacked once.

Highlights of this series were:

* A great open field tackle by cornerback Greg Lovely, when he dropped Raymond Hudson for a 1-yard loss.

* Katback K.C. Bills intercepted a Beck pass and Greg Lovely showed great coverage staying with receiver Riley Weber step-for-step on a fly pattern that fell incomplete.

* After consecutive completions to Weber and Austin Collie, Nua, defensive tackle Vince Feula and Bills tackled Watterson for a 3-yard loss in the backfield. Linebacker Grant Nelson knocked down a pass down at the line of scrimmage to effectively end the drive.

Matt Berry took the field with the second-team and was promptly sacked by defensive end Shaun Nua, who got to him at the same time Berry ended his drop in the pocket. On a subsequent play, Hudson ran for a 4-yard gain. After an incompletion to receiver Matthew Smith, defensive tackle Manaia Brown penetrated to drop running back Eric Watterson for a 4-yard loss. That play was followed by a swing pass to Hudson out of the backfield for an 18-yard gain.

Hudson led the next series with a 3-years sweep, but Manaia Brown made his presence known again, sacking Berry for a 6-yard loss. Brown played only several series, but was completely dominating. On 3rd and 13 Berry, threw a nice pass in the flat to receiver Michael Reed, who was aided by a great open-field block from fellow freshman receiver Antwaun Harris. Katback K.C. Bills dislodged the ball from Reed's hands with a hard hit. After an incompletion to Austin Collie, Berry finished that series with several completions to receiver Weber and Watterson.

Then it was Jason Beck's turn. Beck started the series with a 10-yard swing pass to running back Nathan Meikle out of the backfield, followed by a 6-yard pass to receiver Saia Hafoka and a 6-yard run by Hudson. On the next two plays, running back/wide receiver B.J. Mathis passes for 13 and 3-yards respectively. An incomplete pass to Reed ended the drive. Beck ended the scrimmage with 10-for-19 passing for 80 yards and one interception.

Berry then took the field again with the first-teamers. The first running play from scrimmage by Bryce Mahuika was negated by Carlson-Maddux and linebacker Cameron Jensen for a 4-yard loss. Berry followed that up with a completed swing pass to Mahuika for a 13-yard gain. On third and short, Tahi may have had the run of the day, juking senior Burbidge in the open field for a 13-yard gain.

Berry's next play was a pretty 50-yard play-action pass to Watkins, who caught it. However, the ball dislodged when Watkins fell to the ground. That play was followed by a swing pass to 260-pound linebacker-turned-fullback, Moa Peaua, for a 22-yard gain. After another impressive 13-yard run by Hudson to the outside, Berry completed a 15-yard out pass to tight end Daniel Coats. Then, from the 19-yard line, Berry recovered from a missed snap and improvised, shoveling a pass to Watkins over the middle who turned it upfield and ran into the end zone.

Obviously recovered from a major hand injury that slowed his progress all summer, Berry had the best statistical game of the three quarterbacks, completing 14 of 16 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked four times without any interceptions.

Jason Beck replaced Berry again, but wasn't able to move the ball effectively.

Jackson Brown also took the field leading the offense to a touchdown with several nice passes to Matthew Smith and Saia Hafoka. Hudson again moved the chains with a nifty 11-yard run. The drive culminated in a 10-yard touchdown grab by Reed. Brown completed 4 of 5 passes for 52 yards and one touchdown. He was not sacked and had no interceptions.

John Beck then took the field again with the first-teamers and promptly connected with receiver Rod Wilkerson for a short 5-yard gainer. On the following play, Watkins bobbled a ball before securing it. The hesitation cost him a punishing hit from Cougarback Aaron Francisco. Beck then threw another swing pass to Peaua out of the backfield for 12-yards. After a short pass to Watkins, the defense blew up a third and short run attempt by Mahuika as linebacker Justin Luettgerodt and defensive end John Denney converged and dropped him for a loss.

Berry took the field again with the second-teamers and was sacked on the first play by defensive end Michael Marquardt for a 6-yard loss. After a 5-yard pass completion to Hudson, Berry was sacked again by Nua and Bills. Berry responded with three consecutive completions to tight end Jeremy Gillespie, Meikle and Gillespie again. Hudson then ran off left tackle for a nice 18-yard gain aided by a big-time open field block by Reed.

Greg Lovely impressed onlookers when he stopped a Peaua with a full head of steam short of the end zone on an 11-yard swing pass. Berry followed that up with a quarterback sneak for a touchdown.

John Beck closed the scrimmage with a drive that ended in an impressive interception by Burbidge. That drive included a pass knock-down at the line of scrimmage by Denney, a 19-yard pass to Wilkerson and an impressive open field tackle by cornerback Spencer White.

Overall Crowton said he was happy with Tuesday's offensive effort saying, "I really like the mix we're developing with the wide receivers. We have a lot of young guys that can make plays. I like how they're working in with the veterans such as Kukahiko, Hale and Wilkerson. I think we have a real good combination of wide receivers. I like where we're going as a team. I see a lot more progress this time around. We have two more weeks to get it going. I think we're getting better with every practice which is what you want."

And as comfortable as coaches were becoming with a revamped offense, at least one defensive standout, Shaun Nua, expressed his personal frustration at not being able to play better as a unit. "That was not good out there. It was ugly. That's not who we are defensively. We didn't show up defensively and we have a ways to go. It was very disappointing to me. We're making some plays, but we need to get a lot better."

Nua, however, was quick to praise his offensive teammates. "They're a lot smarter. They know what to do quicker and they have a ton more confidence, which is good to see. They'll make us a lot better defensively going against them. We need to get a lot better ourselves. I know we'll get better, but today showed that we need to work all that much harder," he concluded.

BYU FOOTBALL FALL CAMP SCRIMMAGE STATS
Aug. 17, 2004

TOTAL PASSING STATS:

39 of 58 completions for 450 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and five sacks.

RUSHING STATS

Player ATT YDS TD AVG LNG
R. Hudson 7 55 0 7.9 23
C. Brown 3 49 0 16.3 29
Tahi 2 16 0 8.0 14
Ja. Beck 3 16 0 5.3 9
Jo. Beck 1 7 0 7.0 7
Mahuika 3 1 0 0.3 4
Meikle 1 3 0 3.0 3
Berry 1 1 1 1.0 1
Watterson 3 -5 0 0 2

TOTAL 24 143 1 6.0 29

RECEIVING STATS

Player REC YDS TD AVG LNG
Watkins 5 133 2 26.6 70
Smith 3 46 0 15.3 26
Peaua 3 42 0 14.0 22
Mathis 3 25 0 8.3 13
Hafoka 3 25 0 8.3 14
Wilkerson 2 24 0 12.0 19
Reed 2 24 0 12.0 14
Weber 3 19 0 6.3 11
Meikle 2 19 0 9.5 10
Coats 2 18 0 9.0 16
Kukahiko 3 18 0 6.0 7
Hudson 2 15 0 7.5 16
Mahuika 1 13 0 13.0 13
Gillespie 2 11 0 5.5 7
Tahi 1 6 0 6.0 6
Collie 1 6 0 6.0 6
Watterson 1 6 0 6.0 6

TOTAL 39 450 1 11.5 70

KEY DEFENSIVE STATS
Player TFL Yds Sck PBU PDF FF FR INT

Carlson-Maddux 1 8 1 0 0 0 0 0
Soelberg 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Nua 2 14 2 0 0 0 0 0
M. Brown 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Bills 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
Skinner 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Cooper 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
R. Beck 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Turner 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
G. Nelson 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
M. Marquardt 1 5 1 0 0 0 0 0
Denney 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Burbidge 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Jensen 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Francisco 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0

TOTAL 6 37 4 2 3 2 2 3

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