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Bye week just what the Cougars need

PROVO — The way BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall sees it, the upcoming bye week couldn't come at a better time.

The Cougars, who dismantled I-AA Eastern Illinois, 45-10, last Saturday, have two weeks to prepare for their Mountain West Conference opener against Texas Christian.

"We've played a very, very strong Division I football team (Boston College) and we've played a solid I-AA team," said Mendenhall. "Now we have two weeks worth of assessing our own team. When you're talking about a new staff and a new program, it's a great chance, if I organize it correctly with our coaches, for us to be further ahead as we start game prep for TCU."

"It was good to get a win, but it's also good to see things that we need to work on before we head into the TCU game in two weeks," said quarterback John Beck.

The Cougars will be able to watch the Horned Frogs play against Utah on Thursday before hosting them on Sept. 24. Mendenhall, whose players presented him with the game ball after the Eastern Illinois game to commemorate his first victory as a head coach, wants his team to make the most of the bye week.

"We don't intend it to be a few days off," he said. "We're going to get better. My No. 1 goal is to improve our football team, regardless of who we play."

BYU will practice today, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then the players will have Friday and Saturday off while some coaches will hit the recruiting trail.

While the Cougars rolled to a 31-0 halftime lead against Eastern Illinois, the victory still revealed some weaknesses.

After not giving up any turnovers against Boston College, BYU surrendered two interceptions and two fumbles against the Panthers. Meanwhile, the Cougars were penalized fewer times than last week but still had seven penalties for 42 yards.

"The penalties aren't gone and I didn't say they'd be gone, either," Mendenhall said. "I said it was a work in progress and it is. Our football team has work to do to become clean, efficient, sharp and play at the level it's going to take to win this conference and ultimately reach our goals. This was one more step in a positive direction to those goals, but we're not there yet."

Another concern? BYU's listless third-quarter performance. The Cougars were not only outscored, 3-0, in that period, but they seemed to lose focus and they struggled to execute offensively.

"I think we've got to be a more mentally tough team, especially the start of the third quarter," said linebackers coach Paul Tidwell. "That was the exact point coach Mendenhall made with the team (at halftime), that we should play better than we did in the first half if we're going to improve and be better as a team. We didn't. It's something we'll look at as coaches and say, 'What do we need to do to make these guys finish and play harder and not have these lulls. Good teams are going to take advantage of that."

The Cougars are entering a stretch of playing three straight conference opponents. The stakes, said linebacker Cameron Jensen, will be higher as they go into league play.

"Everybody in this conference wants to win a conference championship," he said. "We know this game is important. This is conference, this really matters. You're even that much more intense, that much more focused."

ASSESSING THE DEFENSE: BYU surrendered only 196 total yards to Eastern Illinois and forced three turnovers.

"I thought we played as one," Jensen said of the defense. "I remember being out there, looking around and everyone was so determined. Everybody played well I thought, starting with the defensive line all the way to the secondary. They were solid throughout. We had people like Justin Robinson, starting his first game and he comes out and plays well. Playing alongside (linebackers) Paul Walkenhorst and Justin Luettgerodt. You look at (Luettgerodt) and that guy's crazy. You look at him and, man, it makes you excited."

HARLINE PLAYS SPARINGLY: BYU tight end Jonny Harline, who suffered a shoulder injury against Boston College, saw limited action against Eastern Illinois. He said he could have played more, but the shoulder is sore and he was kept out as a precautionary measure. Harline is looking forward to having a couple of weeks to heal up.


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com