Cougars Getting their 'Juice' Back

BYU coaches did not give their players a vacation during the last two weeks, but they did give them a lower impact regimen relative to the regular season routine. As a result, the Cougars are rejuvenated and walking with a little more spring in their step as they make their final preparations for the Las Vegas Bowl.

"It was a good time for us to get better," said BYU quarterback John Beck. "We had a few guys with some nicks here and there. We had some guys with some sprained MCLs and a couple guys had some groin or hip flex injuries. Football is a very violent game and sometimes you need time to let your body heal. You're always getting hit and you're always getting pounded. Just running and staying conditioned instead of getting pounded definitely allows for your body to get better."

A majority of the injuries seem to have come on the defensive side of the ball, and so the lack of contact for the past two weeks has been a welcomed respite.

"You can see guys with a little more juice in their step," said outside linebacker Aaron Wagner. "They've been out here not hitting and smacking each other up but running and improving, getting faster and getting their wind back."

"On defense, it's the same thing," said Beck. "Those guys like to hit so we have a few guys banged up, and the time off definitely has helped them get back physically. The coaches have been great. Even though it's questionable that some of these guys will play, it's nice to see the coaches so supportive of them while they're here at practice. I don't know if Ben [Criddle] is going to play, but he's out here at practice trying to help coach these guys so they can play at their best game."

Two players who were really helped by the time off are inside linebacker Aaron Wagner and outside linebacker David Nixon. Both suffered minor injuries during the Utah game.

"As far as getting healthy, it's helped me a lot," said Wagner. "That first week, I couldn't even move my neck. I was talking to Nixon today and his groin is feeling a lot better and he's ready to go. He's just kind of being limited right now because the coaches don't want to press it, and want him to be fresh for the game. I'm sure it's the same way with some of those other guys, so everyone is getting healthier and getting our conditioning back isn't really a problem because they're really pushing us out here. These last couple of weeks have been tough."

Still there are a few guys that might be questionable for the Las Vegas bowl game. One is Ben Criddle and the other is Corby Hodgkiss.

"I think there are still a few guys out on defense," said linebacker Kelly Poppinga. "Corby Hodgkiss is out, Nixon is still out and Criddle is still out. I talk to Criddle everyday, and it's still up in the air. Nixon will be back, and he'll play. His injury is just something he's had to deal with the entire season, and it's just his groin. I'm guessing he'll be back practicing either Wednesday or Thursday. We did get some guys back today. Justin Robinson is back today. I think the rest helped a lot of guys out by getting them healthy."

"Great programs are defined by, who can step in and fill a spot and play at a high level," said Beck. "That's what great programs are and that's what this program is trying to accomplish once again. We had that in the past and we're trying to get back to that. We had a situation this year were the coaches asked me not to play in a game against Utah State and to let Jason [Beck] play. I thought Jason did a great job, and just like what Jason did, we're going to ask some of these guys to step in on defense and fill in and play a great game. That way we don't miss a beat."

Although taking time away from practice allows for healing, it can be a double-edged sword. The time away from normal practice preparations can lead to a loss of the competitive mentality that comes from playing every week. The Cougars are confident that they avoided this pitfall, however.

"I think our team has done a good job of not losing focus and saying that the season is done," said Beck. "We still have one more game. Coach Mendenhall has talked to us about the last time BYU won a bowl game, which was ten years ago. I think with the guys on this team and with the seniors in this class that know we've yet to win a bowl game since we've been here, that's a lot of motivation for us to play our very best. Nobody's minds have shut down since the end of the regular season. Yes the regular season is over, but now it's the bowl season, and we have to use every practice that we can to our advantage. We have to prepare the best we possibly can so when we play in the game we can perform at the highest level."

According to Beck, the coaching staff has done its job by keeping the team focused. Now that conditioning and rehabbing is over, it is time to get back up to speed and regain the team's game day timing.

"I think we were a little rusty," Wagner said. "Anybody who saw practice could tell that. Someone who hasn't played football for two weeks but has just been conditioning, running, touching lines and running through cones is going to be a little rusty when it comes time to start playing football. We'll get back into it and shake the rust off a little bit, but this is the right move for the team because now people are healthy and got their legs back. As soon as we can brush up on the game plan for Oregon, we're going to ready to go."

It is a little more difficult for the defense to stay sharp than it is for the offense because the offense got the benefit of running passing drills during the last two weeks.

"We were still throwing the ball around but this is a better environment because it's a practice environment," Beck said. "We're seeing people flying around, and to start out practice like that is good. I was impressed with our offense, and I think it will lead really well into the other practices we have this week."


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