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What we learned from the Cougars' second scrimmage

BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, center, watches the action with other coaches at BYU's scrimmage Thursday at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, August 10, 2017.
BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, center, watches the action with other coaches at BYU's scrimmage Thursday at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, August 10, 2017.
Kelsey Brunner, Deseret News

PROVO — What did we learn about BYU football after the second major scrimmage of fall camp on Thursday?

Well, first, the defense got mad, motivated, got called out and responded to a thrashing the offense delivered earlier.

Second, at this stage, the defense pretty much knows the offensive plays and thus, the prediction factor increased dramatically. Routes were jumped, pressure worked and players simply played harder. The results were a pair of interceptions and a trio of fumble recoveries.

If a team is progressing, this ebb and flow of who wins in fall camp is natural. Both sides have their days and bragging rights.

It should also be pointed out, coaches can “allow” one side to succeed simply by deciding who they put on the field or choose to hold out. And sometimes the offense and defense are running plays not to attack the other’s scheme but to build on their own designs.

So, in a sense, it’s a teaching laboratory with a lot of controls. What is unpredictable is if a few individual players simply blow up and make star moves. That was the difference this last time.

After limited exposure to Kalani Sitake’s team, it’s a challenge to accurately piece together what the Cougars have. But if you delve a little deeper into resources who’ve seen every drill and play, you can get an idea of what direction this squad is headed.

BYU will grind it out in September, playing three ranked opponents in LSU, Utah and Wisconsin. They could get lucky, they could break even during the first four weeks and surprise people. But they could also go 1-3 with their only win over Portland State in the opener.

I will say the first scrimmage when the offense had the upper hand was no fluke. It was a first-class whipping by Tanner Mangum and his receivers and tight ends. “They simply shredded us,” one coach said this week. "It was legit and it wasn’t against our twos and threes.”

Veteran NFL punter Lee Johnson, now working in BYU’s athletic department, declared after the first scrimmage, BYU’s receiving corps was simply dominating. “You can quote me on that. They are very good.”

This is significant, especially that it happened so early in fall camp when defense generally rules.

What it says is Ty Detmer’s offense is indeed reaping the rewards of time, talent and experience. A year working the system is night and day. It all begins with Mangum's timing, confidence and chemistry with receivers.

Mangum is having an outstanding fall.

It helps that he’s enjoyed the emergence of tight ends Matt Bushman and Moroni Laulu-Pututau and surprise consistency, speed and athleticism from Beau Tanner, Talon Shumway and Micah Simon.

Now, Detmer is whittling down his running back choices. The most consistent blockers and pass catchers who can gain yardage on carries will see the most time among the committee led by Squally Canada and Riley Burt, pushed by Kavika Fonua, KJ Hall, Trey Dye and others.

It doesn’t take a scientist to predict this offense, and come October and November it should obliterate pass and total offense numbers of last year’s 66th-ranked offense. Why? Detmer has far more choices than a year ago when he leaned heavily on current Green Bay Packers Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams. This will be a tougher offense to defend.

The defense?

The reason Ilaisa Tuiaki’s defense kicked tail Thursday was pressure from the front seven. He’s benefited significantly from the return of rush end Sione Takitaki, a Tongan hurricane blessed with speed and a hunger to harass quarterbacks.

He’s also lucked out in the quick progress of two freshmen who have given BYU’s offensive line headaches all camp. These budding stars are Bingham High grad Langi Tuifua, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound dynamo who has almost been unblockable by Cougar offensive linemen, and Hunter High alum Lorenzo Fauatea, who is 6-4, 260 and a load.

BYU’s fanbase has yet to see Tuifua and Fauatea in action, but with Takitaki, they represent something the Cougars haven’t had in years on the field at the same time, some of the same tools Sitake recruited and fortified the defenses at Utah with over the last decade.

Because Tuiaki can use depth with his front seven, he can rotate and keep up energy for pressure and it was apparent in Thursday's scrimmage. It makes coverage in the secondary much easier when Mangum, Beau Hoge and Koy Detmer are squeezed out of the pocket and forced to throw on the run. That is why the defense won the second scrimmage.

By all means, this team has a lot of work to do before opening with Portland State and going to Houston to take on the SEC’s legendary LSU Tigers. Mistakes must be accounted for and corrected. Individuals have to clean things up.

But this is a unique camp. This is not Year 1 of an offense and defense.

If you break it down, there’s plenty to be optimistic about Sitake: Year 2.