PROVO — With a little more than two weeks before BYU kicks off the season at Arizona, the Cougar defense made a statement Thursday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“I think the defense was kind of fed up about hearing about the offense and how great they were doing and they wanted to do something about it," coach Kalani Sitake told reporters after a 90-play live scrimmage that was closed to the media. "That’s kind of what happens in camp."
Sitake liked the way the defense set the tone early.
“I thought our defense did pretty good today. The first half was controlled by what the defense did," he said. "The offense did some good things later in the second half. I’ll have to watch the film. I thought the defense did better than it did last time.”
The defense forced “five or six sacks,” according to Sitake, and one turnover — a fumble by running back Squally Canada. But it was a big one that came late in a drive.
“We did have one fumble, a costly one at the end of a drive when we were going in to score,” said offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. “That was probably the biggest negative.”
“We had a fumble near the end zone,” said freshman quarterback Zach Wilson. “Everyone makes mistakes. Squally is a hard runner. I’d give him the ball every play if I could. Something like that, we shake off and learn from it.”
Grimes said the offense improved in some ways but struggled in others.
“I didn’t feel like we performed as well as we have in some other practices and scrimmages. Positives? We didn’t throw any interceptions,” he said. “We eliminated some of the penalties we had last week. We didn’t make as many plays as we have at other times both in the run game and the passing game. We didn’t really get into rhythm the way I’d like to. It started with not being as efficient on first down as we’d like to be. We had times when we didn’t get enough on first and ten. We got out of rhythm."
The offense showed some resiliency, too, Grimes added.
"We didn’t have a great start in the first half. But we gathered ourselves at halftime and I told the guys that this is a positive to see how we respond when we haven’t played as well and made the plays that we have at other times. We came out after the half and the guys were more composed and more relaxed. We played better in the second half.”
Senior quarterback Tanner Mangum said the offense had an up-and-down day.
“We had some mistakes but we did a lot of good plays, too. A lot of good things to build on. We’ll watch the film and see what we can improve on. Overall, it was a pretty solid day. We ran a lot of plays today. The more plays, the better, to make sure we’re getting comfortable. I like the direction we’re heading.”
Mangum and Wilson are battling for the starting quarterback job. How did they perform?
“They didn’t throw any interceptions, so that was good,” Sitake said. “They played really consistent. It’s crazy. They’ve been really good, those two. In the last scrimmage they had identical stats with completions. I was pleased with them not turning the ball over. On the other side of things, I want to see the defense be more disruptive and get turnovers.”
The defensive line asserted itself, according to Sitake.
“The D-line did a good job of collapsing the pocket a little bit more,” he said. “I thought we handled man-coverage really well.”
The Cougars are improving in the trenches on both sides of the ball, Sitake said.
“I’ve been really impressed with the physical part of the O-line. What it’s done is it’s made our defensive line step up and try to answer the call,” he said. “They were really moving the line of scrimmage the first couple of weeks. Today, our defensive line really stood their ground, a lot better than they had in the past. Competition is doing really well for those guys. The D-line is making the O-line better and the O-line is making the D-line better.”
The dilemma for Sitake, and all coaches at this time of year, is that when they see something positive on one side of the ball, they can also see something negative on the other.
“It’s never as good as you thought and never as bad,” Sitake said. “I’m going to be happy and sad after I watch the film.”
Sitake added that the depth chart is closer to being solidified. Thursday marked the second scrimmage of fall camp. The first one featured 120 plays.
"Now that we’ve got two good scrimmages in, we’ll evaluate our guys, start working on the depth chart, start working on guys that can help us on the travel squad and finish up camp and then get ready for Arizona. That will be our next focus," Sitake said. “We’re seeing a lot of good movement. The ones and twos are starting to step up. We need more than just 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense. Let’s see how many starters and game-ready players we can have.”
With two weeks remaining until the opener, Sitake is pleased with how his team is battling.
“We’re starting to see guys really compete. It started getting a little chippy earlier in the week,” he said. “It was good to go live and let the pads do the talking. For the most part, we’re healthy. I’m excited about that.”