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Game gives BYU plenty to work on

Beating up Eastern Illinois by 35 points was a good thing, maybe the best for a BYU football team that stood 2-4 in LaVell Edwards Stadium of late before kickoff Saturday.

BYU's expected 45-10 win over the Panthers on Saturday provided another nugget. The Cougars have two weeks to perfect their imperfections — something the coaches certainly will use as a hammer during a bye week heading into the conference opener against TCU.

If BYU had won 60-0, use of that hammer may have got lost in the translation: The Cougs need work.

BYU raced to a 17-0 lead in 12 minutes Saturday, then napped and stumbled around with a 31-3 lead through the third quarter and most of the fourth before registering a pair of late touchdowns to get to 45. The 52,630 present could have done with a heavier dose. Withdrawal pains from the old blowouts have set in.

"It's 31-0 at halftime, and we come out and fumble the ball after the half," quarterback coach Brandon Doman said. "We need to come out the second half and be ferocious, tasting blood, and we didn't."

The win over Division I-AA EIU lifted the Cougars to 1-1 two weeks into the season. Sure it was an overmanned opponent. The scholarship difference between BYU and EIU is 85 to 63, and depth and size were factors.

But these Cougars needed a piece of meat in their teeth. Now, they've got plenty to work on the next 14 days before they play again.

No disrespect to Eastern Illinois. But this is the kind of game a Division I-A home team like BYU is expected to deliver a 60-0 blowout. Don't do it, and mistakes become glaring talking points.

And there certainly will be some of that in days to come for Bronco Mendenhall, who got his first victory as a head coach against the Panthers.

The pieces of coal that need shining?

Bryce Mahuika's second-quarter fumbled punt.

Play calls or execution on third downs that never would have gotten the long yardage required.

Curtis Brown's fumble after a sizable gain after halftime, setting up a Panther field goal.

Derek McLaughlin's 12-yard punt on BYU's second possession of the second half.

An 11-yard Panther run allowed on the play after Brown's fumble.

BYU's third possession of the second half that included back-to-back penalties on offensive linemen Brian Sanders and Eddie Keele, essentially killing the third straight drive after intermission.

The fourth possession of the second half, which ended in Beck throwing an interception.

BYU's four turnovers a week after having none against a ranked Boston College team.

The 6-of-14 third-down conversions.

Racing towards a blowout 31-0 lead has its setbacks. You see it all the time. Used to see it in LaVell Edwards Stadium back in the days when big wins got boring. Third-and-30s were a joke because BYU almost always converted.

These days, BYU should be grateful for cushions; they've been rare. The Cougar offense scored, but got aid and comfort from the defense, which forced an interception and two fumbles. Other BYU scoring drives came off huge EIU penalties.

Mendenhall knows his Cougars aren't good enough to nap in a game. But they did that in their first win.

Mendenhall's talking points? Polish, composure, execution, dominance and finishing work.

All these were missing on Saturday. It's stuff that will be mandatory to challenge for a MWC championship beginning with the TCU game on Sept. 24 in Provo.

"We started great and ended great," linebacker coach Paul Tidwell said. "But we can't afford to play like we did in the middle, in that third quarter. We've got much to clean up."

In the first half, Beck posted a 151 pass-efficiency rating by going 13-of-21 for 168 yards and a a pair of touchdowns with one pick. In the second, he was 13-of-19 for 127 yards and a touchdown with a ricochet interception for a 131.4 second-half efficiency. He finished the game with a 133.30 rating.

"I thought John did a good job in this game," Doman said.

His QB will always be a focal point of wins and losses. For this game, Doman went to the press box with assistant head coach Lance Reynolds.

"He'll have to be patient with me. I was banging the table, the door, punching the window, everything," Doman said. "But I think going up there helped the team. It helped me communicate with my quarterback and help make adjustments. Last week, I was less helpful to my quarterback and I didn't expect that."

Doman said the Cougars had a better game plan this week and the entire operation was improved, particular on offense. BYU went from zero TDs to six. Beck was responsible for three by air and one on the ground.

"John is not satisfied," Doman said. "I don't think anyone is satisfied. He needs to play better, everyone needs to be better. As a collective group, we need to do better. John is part of that group and he wants to be better than he was."

Beck's adjustment out of the pocket for a scoring strike to Fahu Tahi in the fourth was outstanding. But he could have had another TD when Luke Ashworth had his man beat, streaking for the end zone. Beck's ball was just out of reach.

"I don't want him to feel like he can't make a mistake either," Doman said. "But he's such a conscientiousguy that when he makes a mistake, it's tough. A lot of that has to do with the last three years. But he's getting way better. He doesn't have to carry the load. We have others who can help carry the load."

Doman said things happen for a reason, and not blowing out Eastern Illinois 70-0, "which we could have and probably should have," is one of them.

"It was good for our football team because we aren't there yet," Doman said. "We were inconsistent on offense. We have to be more consistent to win this conference and we can't do it playing like that."

Not satisfied.

Two good words for Mendenhall to take to work on Monday.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com