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Cougars close but need polishing

BYU now focusing on first opponent — No. 22 Boston College

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BYU tight end Jonny Harline pushes against Corby Hodgkiss, right, and O'Neil Howell for more yardage during scrimmage Wednesday.

BYU tight end Jonny Harline pushes against Corby Hodgkiss, right, and O’Neil Howell for more yardage during scrimmage Wednesday.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — In the mid-part of BYU's major scrimmage of fall camp Wednesday in LaVell Edwards Stadium, coach Bronco Mendenhall said he felt like he did as a defensive coordinator at New Mexico facing Texas Tech, witnessing a passing attack go off like a well-oiled nearly unstoppable machine.

At times, John Beck and the Cougar offense was that good, scoring three straight touchdowns, moving the chains, converting third and fourth downs and producing big plays, including a 33-yard touchdown pass from halfback Curtis Brown to Todd Watkins.

But, at the start and end, BYU's defense was tough and much improved from the first week of fall camp.

"I thought it was up and down for both sides," Mendenhall said of the offense and defense. "I thought in the movement portion of the scrimmage the offense was precision based and methodical and did a nice job moving the ball. Then in some pretty critical situations at the end, the defense realized they were here to play today and performed better."

One of those plays was a reaction tackle by sophomore linebacker Bryan Kehl, who reacted to a receiver screen from Matt Berry to Zac Collie, changed direction and collared Collie for a minor gain.

Beck completed 13 of 20 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown to redshirt freshman Michael Reed. During the scrimmage, tight end Jonny Harline had a big fourth-down conversion catch to keep a drive alive. Harline led all receivers with four catches for 43 yards.

Reed had three catches for 35 yards.

Before settling for some long incompletions in a two-minute drill, Beck was on target, throwing pinpoint passes while receivers Reed, Daniel Coats, Nate Meikle, Harline and Joe Griffin had big catches. It was during this stretch the Cougar offense rattled off four touchdown drives.

"There was a time in there when he knew where to put the ball, how fast to get rid of it before the sack could get there," Mendenhall said. "He was moving the offense and controlling the tempo. Then at the end, when the defense actually stepped up, he had some difficulty. Those are the situations that he's going to have to — and we as a team are going to have to — step up offensively to win some of the close ones, which is something that we haven't done in the past couple of years."

Mendenhall called the Cougars close but needing polish. Wednesday may likely be the last time he puts his No. 1 offense out against the No. 1 defense. Beginning today, the Cougars will start working on the game plan for the opener against Boston College.

At the end of Wednesday's scrimmage, both the first- and second-unit defenses stepped up, making big plays, including a recovery of a Ray Hudson fumble, an interception by Ryan Beck and six quarterback sacks.

Berry, playing with the second unit, completed five of eight passes for 38 yards and an interception. He was the victim of a bad hike and some blitzes. Berry split time with Jason Beck, who completed four of five passes for 40 yards.

Brown, getting a lot of work on the day, gained 36 yards on eight carries.

"Every guy wants to be in the best shape they can mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually before they go out to battle," Brown said. "So each day we come out to practice we're working on getting better, like today, we're anxious to work out the kinks and get better at every little detail. We're going to give 110 percent in all our drills and plays and just get it done."

O'Neil Howell, seeing playing time with the No. 1 defense opposite Nate Soelberg, said the defenders did turn it on.

"I thought it went pretty good for both sides," Howell said. "We're working really hard. Offensively, they are executing very well, as the coaches said, and the defense needs to come out with more emotion, which we did after getting popped in the mouth a couple of times.

"We realized we had our backs against the wall, clamped down and worked hard.

"Effort was always there, we just need to play at a higher level. Execution was our goal, and that showed in the second half of the scrimmage."

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com