Full-Contact Scrimmage Yields Good Results

The pigskin was flying and pads were popping in front of around 1,000 Cougar Alumni and parent of current football players on Friday. The first full scrimmage of the spring yielded some rather surprising results offensively, while giving coaches a good look at not only the team's overall potential but also some kinks that still need to be worked out.

The day quickly turned cold as the clouds and wind blew in, but that didn't stop the offensive fireworks from popping off early. Quarterback Riley Nelson took to the field first, and to the excitement of all those in attendance, the first play was a 75-yard score.

"Basically we decided, hey, we're going to pull a play fake here," said receiver McKay Jacobson. "We pitched the ball out to Harvey [Unga] and he threw the ball downfield to O'Neilll [Chambers] for the touchdown."

Throwing in a halfback pass on the first play of live scrimmage was a bit unusual. A more conservative introduction to start the activities is usually the case, but not this time around.

"Yeah, I really think we just wanted to have a little fun with it," said Jacobson with a smile. "I think that was the overall idea behind it – to get everybody loosened up at the start of scrimmage – and it worked."

The next series with freshman quarterback Jake Heaps started off a little rocky with an incomplete pass and a fumble, but on fourth-and-long, Heaps hit receiver Rhen Brown in stride for 26 yards and a first down. After a sack by sophomore linebacker A.J. Van Valkenburg, Heaps hit Chambers for about eight yards to end the series.

"We made some big plays today, and obviously it wasn't perfect, but we made some big plays," said Jacobson. "It's always fun just to do those type of plays and it's a lot of fun, but yeah, we had some big plays today. I think overall the more we've had time to throw and catch the ball, we've grown as a group. We've improved a lot and it's starting to show in some ways. We still have a lot of work to do but overall it was a good day."

"I was actually very impressed with how the quarterbacks, the receivers and running backs came together," said Matt Reynolds. "It was a really good day, but on the other hand the defense stopped us a few times, and that's good because we want our team to be good on both sides of the ball. I think we all learned that we can be physical at practice and have fun at the same time. I think that's a level that some teams can't get to, and it's a level that we've been able to reach in spring. I've been really impressed with our guys in spring. We've had to replace some really high name guys, and that's one thing that is great here at BYU is that we have a lot of great guys ready to step up and play."

The offense as a whole was able to score five touchdowns in three periods. Each period was about five minutes of play. Four touchdowns came by way of long passes.

"I wasn't so surprised that we scored touchdowns but that it happened so quickly," said Reynolds. "We've been able to do it, but it's usually just one or two in practice. Today we were able to get three touchdowns in one period and then two in the next period. To be able to come out and perform like that was really great. I think that is really good. If you look at how well the defense did today, that was really good. We were able to find some holes and take advantage of that, and that's what we need come fall."

"In this offense you never really know what's going to happen," Harvey Unga said. "For these guys to come in and do what they're doing at the pace of what they're doing now, it's a great thing. It kind of makes things exciting come fall to see how far these guys have come [with] being more in tune with their wideouts, tight ends and running backs as well.

"It's going to be interesting to see what we can accomplish with everything we have. Hopefully it will be a nice surprise. To see these guys coming along like they are at this pace, the sky's the limit. I don't think anyone has really met their full potential, but when you're having this kind of success this early it really makes it interesting to see what's going to happen during fall camp."

One of the touchdowns on Friday was a 60-yard reception by running back J.J. Di Luigi, who caught a pass and dodged in and out of traffic to reach pay dirt with a little help from a friend.

"I just want to credit Luke Ashworth, who was running downfield and blocking out that safety [Steven Thomas]," said Di Luigi. "I didn't know whether to go inside or outside. I juked inside and saw the safety go inside, so I broke it outside and was able to get to the outside of Luke for the score. The offensive line played well and gave us time to get downfield."

"I think we realized we have some explosiveness on offense with different players," Jacobson said. "A lot of different players made plays on offense today. We'll look over the film and see what we did well and what we need to improve on and then go from there."

Jacobson himself scored two touchdowns on the day. Not a bad day's work catching balls from the slot receiver position.

"I've been working a little more in the slot this spring because of some things we're still working on at the outside," said Jacobson. "The first touchdown I had was a cover-three with four [receivers] going vertical, and Riley just threw a good ball. The second touchdown was just a little corner route. I ran a corner route and I took the route high, but the corner stayed low and Nelson threw it over the top."

"I'm surprised to see the quarterbacks doing this well," Di Luigi said of Heaps and Nelson. "They're all great and working really hard and it's showing on the field. I'm impressed with them and it's going to be exciting to see how well they do in the fall."

One issue coaches will have to work out with the offense is the exchange between center and quarterback. Five snaps hit the ground during Friday's practice, but aside from a few mistakes, the offense obviously had the better day.

"We still had a couple miscues with some balls here and there and that's something we need to work on as a team," said Reynolds. "I think overall it was a really good productive practice."

"For me and the running backs, I'm pleased with our production," said Unga. "I'm excited to see what else is more to come. We've been moving the ball really well and still have a few things we need to work out, but overall I'm very happy with how things went during practice today. The offensive line blocked really well and the receivers were making plays, as well as the tight ends. The running backs got out there a little bit and made plays running and catching the ball. The quarterback production is coming along slowly but surely, so I'm excited for the team."

"We learned a lot from today," said Di Luigi. "We saw how our receivers and running backs did during a live scrimmage. When you go live and get a chance to take people down, you actually get a chance to see what certain people would do in certain situations. There's a lot to learn from the film."

Though the offense had the better day on Friday, there were some bright spots on the defensive side of the ball as well. One highlight was when safety Steven Thomas greeted receiver Luke Ashworth with a big hit. However, the defense was a bit sloppy and slow to start.

"It was a lot of fun with all the people around," said Brandon Ogletree. "We'll have to go back and look at the tape, but we were a bit sloppy today and didn't come out like we should have."

The reason for that could be because the defense has been going through much of spring camp without going full speed.

"Yeah, we don't go live very much in the spring," said Ogletree. "When we do go live we have to make the adjustment when it comes to tackling and hitting. For some reason, we didn't have the energy we had like at the very end. A lot of that might have come because we were finding our groove as a defense because now we could be physical.

"We have to make the adjustment and be able to come out and play like we did towards the end of the scrimmage at the very beginning. We have to be the ones that set the tone. We can't wait for the offense to dictate tempo of the scrimmage, or else we'll be on our heels the whole time. Once you warm the pads up and get them popping a little bit you get a better feel. When you're just used to stopping and not going to the whistle, the mindset is different for us. I think those things have contributed to how slow we started."

Senior defensive end Vic So'oto recorded a sack during the scrimmage, and freshman defensive end Thomas Bryson racked up two of his own.

"Well, I just dream for those third downs where I can fire off the ball and go get the quarterback," said Bryson. "Sometimes you're able to get to the quarterback and some days you can't, but today I got my two sacks, so I'm happy. It wasn't a bad day for me today and overall I think there were some good things on both sides of the ball."

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