‘It is neck and neck’: BYU’s defense holds its own against prolific offense, maybe even wins the day, in first scrimmage of fall camp
Cougars ran more than 100 plays in a closed-to-media scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday in preparation for 2022 season
Preseason training camp scrimmages, especially the first ones, are never really great gauges of anything, let alone which unit — offense or defense — has the upper hand through the first eight or so practices of August.
Seasoned fans and reporters know a lot of what is reported by players and coaches — particularly when reporters are not allowed to view the scrimmages, as was the case Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo — has to be taken with a grain of salt.
That said, here’s the biggest takeaway from BYU’s first live scrimmage, after head coach Kalani Sitake, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, starting quarterback Jaren Hall and starting linebacker Payton Wilgar addressed media members via Zoom: BYU’s defense is going to be OK, everybody.
“I thought the defense had some disruptive plays, put some good pressure on the quarterback. It was like give-and-take on both sides. Special teams were clean. … I feel like it is neck and neck (between offense and defense) and that is what you want.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake.
“If you are looking at just today, it was kind of back and forth,” Sitake said. “If you are looking at it as a fan, I think everyone wants to see a million points by the offense.”
Well, they didn’t. According to various reports through social media and the like, the offense scored only one touchdown in 84 total plays.
Offensive stars Puka Nacua, Dallin Holker and Gunner Romney and middle linebacker Keenan Pili didn’t play, for precautionary reasons, as Sitake, Roderick and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki do all they can to stay healthy for the opener on Sept. 3 at USF.
Starters and key backups played in only the first 35 or so snaps, and no tackling was allowed.
“And then we went 50 plays where we were tackling,” Roderick said. “A lot of younger players got to play in that part, and it was good to see those guys in a game-type situation at a variety of positions.”
Special teams, which should be solid with kicker Jake Oldroyd and punter Ryan Rehkow both back, accounted for 20 or so plays, Sitake said, bringing the total number of snaps to more than 100.
“Yeah, I thought it was a good day for both the offense and defense,” Wilgar said. “I thought our defense showed up well today, and from the start we had a lot of energy and we went out there and did our thing.
“I don’t want to say we won the day, but I felt like we both got better. We made the offense better and they made us better.”
The offense was happy that it didn’t turn the ball over; the defense was disappointed that it didn’t get any takeaways.
“I thought the defense had some disruptive plays, put some good pressure on the quarterback,” Sitake said, noting that Tyler Batty was a force in his limited reps and Lorenzo Fauatea looked good in his return to playing.
“It was like give-and-take on both sides. Special teams were clean. … I feel like it is neck and neck (between offense and defense), and that is what you want.”
Roderick said Hall got about 25 reps, while Jacob Conover and Cade Fennegan got about 20 apiece. In the tackling portion of the scrimmage, Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters and walk-on Nick Billoups were live (not off-limits to contact) and got about a dozen reps each.
Hall said the offense “has a little bit more to work on” and said the “sense of urgency” was a little lower than he would have liked.
“We had one good drive,” Hall said. “Two other drives we didn’t perform super great on. We just need to have a little more urgency, treat things more gamelike.”
The fifth-year junior said this BYU defense “is one of the best defenses I have gone against in my five years at BYU. They give us good looks every single day.”
Apparently, Saturday was no different.
“Overall, it was a good day,” Roderick said, when asked how the quarterbacks performed as a whole. “We took care of the ball, which is the main thing in a first scrimmage. … Any time you are subbing people in and out like that, there is a good chance that maybe not every play is going to go perfectly.”
Roderick said walk-on receiver Tanner Wall made a great catch on a post-corner route and third- or fourth-string running back Miles Davis did some good things, particularly showing the ability to break some tackles.
“Cade Fennegan made some good throws, so did Jacob Conover,” Roderick said. “And Jaren just did what he always does — real efficient, very clean. We didn’t play him that much, so he won’t have amazing stats, But he did what he was supposed to do and showed good command of the offense.”
Other assorted notes:
• Presumptive starting running back Chris Brooks only got a few carries in the “thud” portion of the scrimmage, but “looked really good,” Hall said.
“It is hard during scrimmages because everything is tagged off, and the officials are really good at calling it (down) pretty quickly,” Hall said. “So you don’t see a lot of yards after contact that we really seem to thrive on the last couple of years with our backs. I know our backs this year will do the same.”
• Roderick said they are “probably another week away” from settling in on a starting five for the offensive line, but repeated what OL coach Darrell Funk said last week: Seven or eight offensive lineman will probably play against USF. Blake Freeland (left tackle) and Clark Barrington (left guard) are surefire starters; Connor Pay and Joe Tukuafu are in a battle to be the starting center, while Campbell Barrington, Kingsley Suamataia and Harris LaChance are in the running for the right guard and right tackle spots.
“It is going to be a challenge, for sure, but it is a good problem to have,” Roderick said of sorting out the depth chart for the offensive line.