"Brandon Bolden is physical, and I think very durable, and very productive," Mendenhall said of Ole Miss' senior running back during a teleconference today. "Last season he was both the leading rusher and leading receiver. I think he's an excellent all-purpose back. Brandon is just an excellent player, and I think very consistent, very steady, and I think will be relied on heavily, especially early in the season as Ole Miss is finding a new quarterback and has some youth at wide receiver. Not that they can't throw the football and not that the quarterback isn't effective. But I would think the role of Bolden would be larger maybe than normal."
Defensively Mendenhall said the Cougars hope to perhaps make first-year Ole Miss quarterback Barry Brunetti have to do more by stopping the Rebels' potent running attack.
"My hope is we're able to play effective enough run defense to make sure the ball does have to go in the quarterback and receivers hands maybe more frequently than Ole Miss would prefer it early in the season. That will all be based on if we can play and hold up physically against I think a very good offensive line and running game. That could be one of the critical things. So we put a lot of focus and attention on being physical and playing solid run defense. Working hard on play action to try to get to the dropback game.
"My guess is Ole Miss has taken maybe the opposite approach and tried to make sure they can run the ball very effectively and play action off of that. And maybe dropback as the third priority."
The seventh-year BYU mentor said his staff hasn't been able to learn a whole lot about Brunetti. But they've worked to try to get around that aspect.
"It's difficult," said Mendenhall, 56-21 at BYU and 7-6 last season. "Basically we've done the best we can to follow Ole Miss' new offensive coordinator (David Lee) and try to gain an idea of what he likes to do, what he's done in the past, and try to predict what he'll do in the future. There's no way we can be 100 percent accurate. So we're going to take kind of a scheme first approach to defend that and we'll have to adjust to the players as the game goes."
On the BYU side of the ball, the Cougars return an experienced signal-caller, even though Jake Heaps is only a sophomore. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder set freshman records last season for passing yards, completions, attempts, games started, and wins.
"Jake is really remarkable. I had a long conversation with him just last night," Mendenhall said. "We visited for quite a while, and we talked about a year ago and where he is now. It's been an amazing transition to see the poise and maturity and watch the class and dignity he's handled not only some of the difficult things but also the pressure. Now that we're independent with the ESPN contact and the national exposure game at Ole Miss, he seems comfortable and at ease and confident. He's growing up and maturing. I've been very impressed."
Mendenhall said entering this season for his program is different than last season, given there are 10 offensive starters and eight defensive starters returning.
"There were a lot of uncertainties last year," he said. "Not that I didn't trust the players, but I wasn't sure how they were going to perform. I hadn't seen them perform. There's always uncertainty going into a first game. This particular team I think has a lot better idea what it's going to take to win, what it's going to take to perform at a high level, and what the expectations are.
"Watching them going through fall camp and into game week, I think they're eager to follow and reach their potential. They're just a lot more confident and calm in the direction and maybe in their trust in one another and what their teammates are capable of and what they can expect of each other. Certainty is a lot better word than we had at this time a year ago, and that usually leads to trust."