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BYU football: Defense dominates scrimmage

Mendenhall terms it ‘wake-up call’ for team’s veteran offense

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Backup quarterback Brenden Gaskins throws a pass during BYU's spring practice scrimmage.

Backup quarterback Brenden Gaskins throws a pass during BYU’s spring practice scrimmage.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Jaime Hill's defense took control of BYU's initial scrimmage of spring practice on Friday, humbling a veteran and confident offense in what head coach Bronco Mendenhall described as a "wake-up call" for the most experienced part of his football program.

On the first day in full pads, the defense leveled big hits, made big stops and put up a statement-like performance against the offense, which has spent the first two weeks of spring strutting around delivering big plays.

"I don't think concentration was there. I didn't think it was clean play; I didn't see composure and I didn't think it was as focused as it should be for an experienced group," said Mendenhall.

The scrimmage was intended to go 15 plays, but Mendenhall extended it once he saw how sloppy things started.

The defense struggled to stop the run, and when the offense tried to pass, protection broke down to the point that tempers flared.

Quarterback Max Hall, frustrated to the point of earning a penalty for voicing his frustration, completed 5-of-7 passes for 120 yards. But 79 of Hall's yards came on the final play, a broken-coverage pass to tight end Andrew George, who slipped behind freshman safety Chris Warner for a catch of 15 yards, then turned and sprinted to the goal before linebacker Terrance Hooks finally got a hand on his jersey.

Hall quickly left the field after a team huddle at the end of drills.

"Max was really frustrated, but that's what a quarterback is going to do when the offense doesn't do what it's supposed to," said receiver Austin Collie. "He's not to blame on that."

The offense, playing without star running back Harvey Unga (held out) and with limited use of Fui Vakapuna (cut chin), used a lot of different personnel, displaying freshman J.J. DiLuigi and Wayne Latu with the majority of the run work. Offensive coaches also inserted Kurt McEuen and Brenden Gaskins in place of Hall at quarterback multiple times in the 30-minute scrimmage.

Latu had the most success, pinching off a series of 8- and 10-yard runs for a total of 30 on four carries. Junior corner Scott Johnson intercepted Gaskins early, breaking on a pass and making a big return.

Said Collie: "It was the first day we haven't played in a while, and we were working on the kinks, but we can play better than that. It's just execution and discipline. A lot of us weren't disciplined and weren't executing. Some of us lost our composure, especially me, and that's something we have to work on."

Collie said the Cougars' offense expects perfection.

"We expect to come out here and dominate and execute, and we didn't show that today. We played a little bit immature as far as our level of play, and it showed our weaknesses, things we have to work on. It's frustrating to come out and not play to expectations."

Collie registered the biggest hit of the day, leveling cornerback Brandon Bradley a few plays into the scrimmage.

"I felt kind of bad for him, but it was a play we'd worked on," said Collie, who admitted he didn't play up to his standard. On another series, corner Brandon Howard made a big hit on Collie after a catch, and after linebacker David Nixon finished the tackle on the sidelines, Collie was slow to shake off the hit.

"I think we got a little too confident," said Collie. " We are back to square one, and we need to come out and work on our execution and discipline and come out and play within ourselves."

Collie said it was a day the offense will give props to the defense in the locker room. "They brought their pads and their hits."

"The defense played well," said MWC sack leader Jan Jorgensen. "We played physical, and that's what you need to do.

"We came out soft during that short-yardage period, we were learning a new scheme, and people weren't sure what they were supposed to do. But then we came out and played better.

"It's a lot easier to play defense, especially on the line, when you have pads on," Jorgensen said. "Without, you can't bull rush, can't do things like that. You can do so much more, it's a lot more fun."

Linebacker coach Barry Lamb credited the new defensive coordinator for the defensive surge to end the week.

"Jaime Hill did a great job preparing us to play today, and he's doing a nice job leading the defense. We were finally ready to put together some things out there," said Lamb.

"We weren't as sharp as we wanted to be, but it was OK for a first scrimmage. We can be more physical and a more focused team. We got winded a few times out there, and we need to keep our focus."

Inside BYU's spring camp

PLAYER ON THE RISE: Junior corner Scott Johnson, a walk-on who earned a scholarship this fall, intercepted Brenden Gaskins Friday and has continued to impress coaches with his grasp of the field-corner position vacated by Kayle Buchannan.

INJURY REPORT: Halfback Fui Vakapuna received a cut to his chin Friday, the first day of pads. The injury required stitches. Offensive lineman Travis Bright and Garrett Reden join another pass protector, Nick Alleto, on the sidelines all during spring. Safety Jordan Pendelton, who is making huge strides as KAT, is nursing a groin muscle pull.

NOTES: Bronco Mendenhall called all the defensive plays in Friday's scrimmage, although new coordinator Jaime Hill put together the schemes. I see the bigger picture now, with more experience (as head coach), and I'm more objective with the offense and the defense, said Mendenhall.

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com