"I think we're fixing it," said Hall following Tuesday's practice. "Today's and yesterday's practice have been awesome. The tempo is better, the hustle is better and I think that we're very hungry to get back on the field and play like we know how."
So how do you cure an offense that has been bogged down since the bye week? While the Cougar offense got off to a very quick start, it has struggled with inconsistent play as of late.
"We're looking to distribute the ball more widely than what we're currently doing," said Bronco Mendenhall about certain strides the offense is currently undergoing.
Indeed, a lot of criticism has been placed at Hall and the offense for locking onto top receivers Austin Collie and Dennis Pitta here of late. Hall will still be looking to go to his primary playmakers, but he will also be looking more to distribute the ball more equally in the coming games.
"What's happened is that we've found ourselves in third-and-long," said Hall when asked about the perception that he's eyeballing certain receivers too much. "When you're in third-and-long you have a tendency to stay in there and look downfield and try to get that first down, and that's what's caused me to get hit and force balls in, so we have to get better on first and second down."
Being better on first and second down includes getting back to the basics of Robert Anae's offense, which includes more underneath throws, runs and throws the flats, and utilizing the running backs and tight ends more during first and second down.
"We need to stay with our short, quick passes," said Hall regarding what the team needs to do better on first and second down. "I need to work on getting rid of the ball faster, so bottom line is field position, third-and-long and us getting out of our groove, and we're not a third-and-long team. We're a consistent, third-and-two, third-and-three team and then we convert, so we need to get back to that."
Indeed third-down execution has suffered on both sides of the ball here of late. During his interview Hall gave the stat that the first four games of the year the team was at 77 percent in third-down execution on offense, while they've nosedived to 45 percent over the past three games, which is certainly something they'll be looking to improve on.
Part of the reason why the team and the offense in particular has been flat here of late is due to lack of emotion and drive. Leading up to the TCU game the players felt that they lacked the necessary motivation and emotion to match what TCU brought to the field.
"We learned that we have to come out and play every single day," said Hall. "We have to learn that yeah, we got a turnover early in the game [and afterwards] we went three-and-out, we punted, but then got the ball back and then I threw a pick. We have to capitalize on that kind of stuff. If we would have converted on that and converted on that fourth-and-1, then the momentum shifts and it's a totally different game and we'd get back into our groove."
Hall mentioned that when the team got down against TCU, instead of rallying the troops or getting everyone fired up, everyone was just sort of looking around. Improving the emotion and energy has been a chief focus of the offense to combat what ailed them against TCU, and after two very upbeat practices, Hall and his teammates feel they're on pace to regain their early season form.
A lot of these issues were addressed in a meeting Hall had with teammate Travis Bright and offensive coordinator Robert Anae this week. During the meeting they determined that certain things on the offense needed to be changed.
"I don't want to talk too much about it and what was said, but there were some thing we thought we needed to change," said Hall. "We needed to change how we practiced, we needed to hustle around all the time and we can't be complacent about where we are and we can't be satisfied. I think we maybe got too complacent with how we were doing. When you beat a team 59-0 and you're doing all the little things right, I think we got a little complacent and I think we stopped working on the things we should have."
Going Against Everything
A tendency of defenses here of late has been to throw everything at Hall during a game and give much different looks than they're accustomed to. Lately teams have been employing high safeties, which is a very uncommon practice for defenses such as New Mexico's and TCU's.
"With every game we play we've found something new or a team doing something new against us," said Hall about how teams are defending against the Cougar offense. "Teams are starting to figure out how to cover us and the thing is, if we execute like we can, then they can't cover us. We just haven't been executing and playing like we can play. So with two high safeties we have to establish the run game, we've got to get that safety down to defend against the run, and then that will open up the pass."
A welcome sight for the Cougar defense was nose tackle Mosese Foketi returning to the practice field on Tuesday. Foketi had academic issues that he had to resolve before joining the team again, but it appears as if Foketi is now caught up academically and ready to add depth to the nose tackle position, which will benefit the defense as a whole.
"It's not so much what it means to the defense as what it means for Mosese to be back," said Mendenhall about what benefits Foketi's return brings. "I think it's just good for him to be back in the team environment and structure, so I think that's more of the initial value."
Rich at Corner?
Safety Andrew Rich, who is the first safety off the bench at both safety positions, spent Thursday's practice playing field corner with the second-team defense. With many cornerbacks out or unable to practice, Rich decided to give it a go at field corner.
"It was just for this practice," said Rich. "I highly doubt you'll see me there during games. It's hard playing corner, it's sort of lonely being out there all by yourself. If I had to play there I know I'd do the best I could, but no, I'll be playing at safety this next game."
Scott Johnson has been held out of practice due to a minor leg injury, but it expected to be ready for this week's game against UNLV. Linebacker Shawn Doman missed Tuesday's practice due to illness, but is also expected to be ready for Saturday's game.