Q&A with Brandon Gurney

TotalBlueSports.com subscribers get their questions answered by TBS Managing Editor Brandon Gurney. The G-man covers topics from Eddie Keele's injury status to offensive production to the musical cornerback position.

Questions from Jon Bagley

Q: How are the injured players coping with their injuries at game time? What do they do to make it through the game?

A: They just play through the pain is the easy answer. The desire that players have to play during game time usually suffices for whatever ailment they have during most occasions. Pure adrenaline and desire to be out there after slugging through practices and off-season workouts is the main reason.

Q: What are some things you would like to see the offense improve on?

A: Getting the ball more often to Todd Watkins is certainly one area that could stand some increase. I do not mean just plugging Watkins in as someone who catches the dink and dunk patterns inherent in Anae's offense. Watkins is the type of deep threat that BYU has never had and will rarely have again. He needs to get the ball deep and often.

Blue zone improvement and consistency in converting third and five or less are two other things the team needs to advance upon. Mendenhall is very aware of the former having practiced blue zone drills frequently during fall practices.

Short patterns in the new offense should be used in a lot of third and short situations. Conversion of third and short situations is essential if the Cougars are to put up points consistently throughout the season.

Q: Has the quality play of the defense been a surprise so far?

A: No surprise here. The front six is physically powerful and highly skilled. I expect them to be very strong against opponents throughout the year. With Feula, Marquardt and Manaia Brown as your front three down linemen, not many teams should be able to run against the Cougars consistently. The secondary has yet to be seriously tested by an above-average passing attack. We will just have to wait to see how they respond.

Q: How do you think Bills, Gooch and Gabriel are performing?

A: Bills is getting more comfortable with his position. His strength will always be blitzing and in run support, but he is showing better with every outing and becoming a well-rounded safety.

Gooch is consistent and is better right now than Bills in coverage, but gives way to Bills in blitzing off the corner and in run support. Gabriel has Francisco's ability with better speed. I think he has the makings of a real star at the Cougarback position. He has performed well, but like I said in my prior answer, all three have not yet performed against a prolific passing attack.

Questions from Jason K. Simth

Q: With a huge defensive line, big linebackers, and even a converted LB playing Kat (Bills), this seems to be a different type of defense than you've ever had before at BYU (and UNM, for that matter). What is your take on this year's version of the defense compared to that of years past?

A: Bronco has always made it a point of emphasis that he will play his 11 best players on defense regardless of position and you are seeing that this year with three defensive tackle types playing the three down linemen positions. You also have Walkenhorst who is very much a defensive end type at linebacker. With that front it would be easy to expect dominance against the run, but we will see how they respond to a prolific passing attack.

The good news is that this team has a bevy of different linebacker types Bronco can plug in for wide-open passing offenses. For example, Gary Lovely and Richard Nehring should play well against the pass. Bronco's 3-3-5 is a variable scheme that will change slightly according to the strengths of the opposing players.

Questions from Ryan Orgill

Q: Are any wide receivers going to learn WR positions other than what they are currently playing, i.e. Reed on the side opposite Watkins or Allen in the slot? If Mahuika can't go on offense, it would seem to make sense for Allen to see time at slot since on the outside we have Collie, Reed, Griffin, and Ashworth.

A: Ashworth has already been converted and is learning the HR position. All the safeties on the team cross-train at Kat and Cougarback, but I have not seen this much regarding the receiver positions thus far.

Q: Is Matthew Smith working towards a return to the field this season?

A: He wants to play this year. He knows it is a long shot at best, but he is suiting up and doing light drills every practice.

Question from David Leonardson

Q: The defensive front and blitz package doesn't seem to be putting the pressure on the opposition's quarterback like the last two years. Further, I have not noticed the fanatical effort by the defense in gang tackling and everyone pursuing the ball on every down. I would be interested in hearing Coach Mendenhall's opinion on this.

A: Boston College had the best offensive line BYU will face this season by a large margin. It is hard to assess any rules concerning this year's effectiveness in the pass rush or other defensive aspects of that game and I feel the defense did an effective job against a porous Eastern Illinois squad.

Bronco stated that he is happy for the most part regarding the effort he sees from his team defensively. This week I feel will be the real test regarding the suggestions and observations you pose.

Question from Ken Lovell

Q: What is the status of Affleck?

A: He tried out for the team just prior to fall practices and did not make the team. He has been invited to try out again this coming winter. He is a huge long-shot at best.

Questions from Richard Haddock

Q: Some plays we've used in the past don't seem to be part of the new offense. Are these plays being considered or are they not part of the plan?

1. Play action passes: It seems we could draw the corners and linebackers in more if we tried this, even from the shotgun. Boston College used this well.

A: It is hard to play-action pass effectively when running from the shotgun formation without many run plays being called. This was the case against Boston College. Why would BC have reason to jump on a play fake to a RB given the circumstances? BYU has to mount a consistent and productive running attack if they hope to play-action pass effectively.

Q: 2. Post patterns of different lengths to Watkins, Allen, & Collie: We seem to go long only on fly patterns to Watkins. It seems he could gain more of an advantage with post patterns of 15, 25, and 40+ yards.

A: Very good question and I think you saw this somewhat addressed against Eastern Illinois. I totally agree with sending the outside receivers a bit deeper on most occasions which will open up what the HR and YR receivers can do effectively.

Q: 3. Roll-out passes: Beck seems to get more time to go long on roll-outs. I've only seen one rollout so far.

A: This offense does not call for roll-out passes much given the quick reads and patterns. This is something that may change as the season goes on. Q: 4. Five step drops: After watching many productive offenses, they seem to use the five step drop to go long in passing. It seems we could add a few of these to the standard three step drop to give receivers more time to get open downfield. Vary the drops up some, please.

5. Tight-end post route up the middle: USC killed us on this and we've done it successfully before. I did see one completion this last game which was refreshing. We need to take more advantage of our tight end to get 15-25 yard plays.

6. Screen passes: Screen passes work well when they're set up right, but we haven't tried it once this year. This is another way to get Curtis Brown the ball.

7. Reverses/surprise plays: Single or double reverses could leverage Watkins' speed.

A: Regarding all of your questions I would just say that a lot of the offense has yet to be revealed in regards to what I have seen in practices. Of course, I cannot be specific about what I have seen. The offense was limited against Eastern Illinois. It may seem like a cop-out answer on my part, but just sit back and wait a bit regarding all seven points you brought up.

Question from Ganesh Natarajan

Q: This year it seems that defensive speed is not what it was the last two years. Is this because the defense does not want to over pursue and lose big yardage as in some games last year or is it because the LB's and some DB's are bigger, thus slower?

A: Not sure if I agree with your assertion here. The linebackers are bigger this year, but I feel they are far more able to pursue laterally than the prior two seasons. I do not feel that any of the problems you suggest have been made manifest as of yet, but like I stated earlier, the linebackers on this team are very deep and variable. Bronco has bodies at this position to answer any problems they may occur in lateral and downfield pursuit if the need arises.

Questions from Jeff Harper

Q: What is Hudson's status?

A: He is red-shirting.

Q: How did Griffin get hurt?

A: Just a minor injury running routes during practice.

Q: What is Buchanan's status?

A: Slowly coming along, could play here very soon.

Q: It seems like we have sacrificed speed for bulk with Brown and Feula and Walkenhorst playing on the outside. Do you worry about our ability to stop the run on the edges?

A: Not at all. Brown and Feula are very agile and will not be moved very easily by offensive linemen. I feel that stopping the run on the edges will be a strength of this year's defense

Q: What is the status of the cornerback Hutchinson?

A: He has not practiced since spring ball and is extremely doubtful regarding any contribution made this year.

Q: How has Brown and Dallas Reynolds performed?

A: They have made their share of mistakes, but both have performed remarkably well given their circumstances. This is especially so with D. Reynolds who is only five months removed from his mission and had no practice experience at the D-1 level whatsoever going into the season.

Q: Will Keele be ready of TCU?

A: Most likely.

Q: Why did we continue to give such large cushions to BC receivers after they successfully ran so many receiver screens?

A: With the inexperienced secondary they did not want to give up the big play downfield. Arguable if that was prudent or not, but that was the purpose.

Question From Knute Christensen

Q: I wonder with all the increased expectations, accountability, responsibility, etc - is the team loose enough to perform at their peak? Are they having any fun?

I think it would be helpful for Beck particularly to loosen up and have some fun. He seems too much of a perfectionist.

A: An emphatic "yes" would be my answer here. At least relative to the last three years this team is having a lot of fun. They are more confident in the scheme and the system in general and that leads to more fun.

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