"This Is Not A Mirage"

BYU's 2006 football team went 11-2 on the season and beat Oregon 38-8 in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars finished with a No. 15 ranking by the end of the season. But, that was then and this 2007 squad is a whole new football team.

After the Cougar football team finished up the season nationally ranked 4th in passing offense, 4th in total offense, 5th in scoring offense, and 2nd in passing efficiency, and produced an average of 465.5 yards per contest, it's hard to imagine things could possibly get better.

These were only a few of the accomplishments produced by one unit of this Cougar program. We haven't even touched upon the productive output from the defensive side of the ball yet, which includes: nationally ranked 4th in turnover margin, 16th in pass efficiency defense, and 10th in scoring defense.

With so much having been achieved over the course of last season, it would seem fool-hearted to actually believe that this year's team could really improve over last year's performances, especially when you take into account that so many key contributors have moved on.

On Wednesday the Cougars of BYU wrapped up only their fourth day of fall camp, and while the casual observer may say it's still too early to gauge any real progress given the circumstances, these few days of fall camp have yielded some of the more precise and sharpest performances by a Cougar football team in recent memory.

"This is not an illusion or craziness," said senior center Sete Aulai. "This mentality started right after we finished the Oregon game. Everybody has heard that we are trying to raise the bar. Well, you're seeing that out here now."

The precision and sharpness at which this Cougar team is currently performing is visibly noticeable, and even at a higher level than last year's team, despite many changes in personnel at key areas. Outside linebacker Chris Bolden feels one reason is due to how the team is currently practicing.

"I think the biggest thing we've done this year that has really helped us to perform the way we have been is by getting the most out of 10 reps instead of trying to stretch it out to 25 reps," said Bolden. "This year guys are a little more fresh [and] more focused, and that tends to give you an edge in performance. When you're successful, then that just generates greater confidence."

Sophomore defensive end Jan Jorgensen gave his personal formula as to why the results of this team's practice performances don't just look and feel different, but are at a higher level than last year's squad.

"I think the reason why we are so much crisper and play more disciplined than last year is a reflection of Coach Mendenhall and our coaching staff," said Jorgensen. "Coach Mendenhall preaches to us every day on how we are to do things right on and off the field. When we are out on the field he tells us that we don't have to be out here forever, but that we can get things done in a 16-period practice as other teams get done in a 24-period practice. It's not the amount of time but the execution and doing things right, and we've taken that to heart.

"Coach Mendenhall holds us accountable for everything we do. Some coaches out there preach hardcore things but don't discipline you if you don't do it. Coach Mendenhall doesn't let anything slide and holds you accountable for everything you do. If you mess up during practice, it's on film and you know you're going to get your butt reamed for it. But this is an example that he also holds for himself. He doesn't just expect us to do these things by ourselves, he expects us to do these things because he lives by it. The team has taken on his personality and this team's discipline is coming out on the practice field by his living by his example.

"When you add effort to discipline, then you're going to have players performing at a high level that is both sharp and crisp. I think our team is performing better than it did last year. Our defense is much more [sharp] and is executing faster, with greater efficiency, at this point in time than we did last year.

"Our offense is coming along and they're making great strides everyday despite losing key players. Our defense is seeing our offense developing every day and they're getting more and more crisp. When you add discipline to effort, everything comes together, and our offense has bought into it just as our defense has."

"How is this possible?" Aulai said. "It's possible because we are focused while being highly competitive. I don't know if you've noticed, but the practice game clock is always at period 16 with two seconds left on the clock. Coach Mendenhall said that we are going to continue to do practice until we get things right, until we get our tempo right and perfected.

"It's not a surprise that we are sharper and more [crisp] than last year. Don't get me wrong, we had a great team last year and everybody is worried that we lost John [Beck], that we lost Jonny [Harline], Dan Coats, Curtis Brown and others that made our team great last year. But our mentality is we are still here and it's not about the individual but about our coaches developing a program. BYU football is still here and we have a great football program."

While BYU sometimes faces teams with players that are faster and stronger, that doesn't mean that the Cougars are going to lose. In fact, Bolden said that there are other factors that will help the Cougars beat teams, ones in possession of greater talent and athleticism, on the football field any day of the week.

"I think people place way too much on having a specific talent level that might take precedence over other key factors that helps to win games," said Bolden. "Talent doesn't necessarily win games; effort and discipline wins games. To be disciplined enough to play in the fourth quarter and execute with precision, now that's what is going to win ball games, not just talent. Talent doesn't just help you to overcome a third-and-one, but being disciplined enough to execute at a higher level, doing your job and everyone trusting that the next guy is going to do their job is what is going to win games."

Bolden also feels that adding greater knowledge to the formula of effort and discipline is also key.

"Last year was pretty much a learning experience for us guys on the defense," Bolden said. "Also, when you add a greater understanding to what you're trying to do, then it opens up another key element towards success. Last year we installed the 3-4-4 defense and everyone was still learning it. I think this year everyone is more confident in themselves and with the scheme because we know it works. We know how to use the scheme and we have the athletes to make it work. You can see during practices that our defense is extremely confident on the field and the actions of the players are precise and sharp."

"I take it very personally to help raise the bar of our offense from what we were last year to something better this year," Aulai said. "We are trying to go above and beyond knowing what we did last year to set a higher tempo and to be more [sharp] and crisp. The offensive line is the strength of our offense and we're going to make sure we set that bar as high as we can to make sure everyone else rises with us. Our defense was great last year. It was ranked 10th in scoring defense and we as an offense want to make sure we help keep it that way. I take it very personal with our offensive line guys in making sure that we are improving and perfecting our game to not only make our offense better, but to make sure our defensive guys are getting the best look and developing against the best offensive line in the country.

"We as a team are not surprised that we are doing things better than we did last year," Aulai continued. "We expected this and you're seeing that out there on the field this early in fall camp. There are always going to be mistakes, but to us it's not a surprise that we are performing to the level we are at this early in fall practice. If we are this sharp this early in fall camp, then think of how mechanically sound this team will be in 24 days and on September 1st."

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