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BYU football notebook: Hall takes 3rd downs seriously

BYU quarterback Max Hall looks to pass while at practice last Thursday. During Saturday's scrimmage, Hall led the offense on an 80-yard touchdown drive and another scoring drive that went 66 yards.
BYU quarterback Max Hall looks to pass while at practice last Thursday. During Saturday's scrimmage, Hall led the offense on an 80-yard touchdown drive and another scoring drive that went 66 yards.
Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

PROVO — Quarterback Max Hall wants BYU to be the best third-down conversion team in the country.

And the Cougar offense looked the part during Saturday's scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium, where Hall led the offense on an 80-yard touchdown drive and another scoring drive that went 66 yards.

Completing 13 of 14 passes for 165 yards and two TDs — one to tight end Dennis Pitta and one to freshman receiver Brett Thompson — Hall was 5-for-5 on third-downs.

A year ago, the Cougars were the No. 1 third-down conversion offense for much of the season, although they faltered a bit down the stretch. They finished No. 2 (55.68 percent) to Tulsa (56.99 percent).

"If you can manage first and second down and get yourself in third-and-medium or third-and-short, you have a great chance to move the chains," Hall said. "We really want to pride ourselves on having a great play called on third down and a play that gives us a good opportunity to make a play. (Offensive coordinator) Robert Anae really harps on that, to be great on third down. If we can be one of the best third-down teams in the nation, keep moving the chains and wear defenses out, we're going to be really tough."

Coach Bronco Mendenhall was impressed with Hall's performance. "He's picking up right where he's left off," he said.

The scrimmage featured numerous younger players being evaluated while proven players rested to avoid injury.

During Hall's first drive, he faced third-and-18 and completed a 20-yard pass to wide receiver O'Neill Chambers. On third-and-1 in the second series,, Hall found receiver Luke Ashworth for a 21-yard completion.

"A lot of those situations were third and longer than we'd like," Mendenhall said. "He converted all of them, which is a great sign, especially considering a mixed cast, so to speak. I think that was maybe the brightest spot of the day — critical situations, even with mixed players, that he was able to move the team."

INJURY UPDATE: Running back J.J. DiLuigi suffered a shoulder contusion early in the scrimmage. It wasn't immediately known how long he'll be out.

Starting safety Andrew Rich, who injured his groin Friday, sat out Saturday and is expected to return Monday or Tuesday.

Backup offensive lineman Houston Reynolds, who tore the ACL in his right knee on Friday, is scheduled to undergo surgery next week. He will miss the 2009 season.

BACKUP QBS: The day after Mendenhall announced that sophomore Riley Nelson is the No. 2 quarterback behind Hall, Nelson struggled, going three-and-out on both of his series and 0-for-2 passing.

Meanwhile, the new No. 3 QB, senior Brenden Gaskins, had his best day of fall camp, completing 3 of 6 passes for 41 yards.

Gaskins told Mendenhall on Thursday that he'd be willing to be demoted to third-string to allow Nelson to have more reps.

"I love Brenden. He's a team guy. He's a guy who's supported me, no matter what," Hall said. "He's always been there for me. For him to go to the coaches and say, 'Hey, listen, I know my spot. I know we've got to get Riley ready. Let's get him more reps,' is absolutely phenomenal. Brenden is an awesome guy and a great person. He's trying to do the right thing for the team. Now Riley needs to take advantage of this. He's getting better every single day."

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com