Along with using some interesting, and innovative, new words and phrases, linebacker Ben Bywater is one of those BYU football players who will generally tell it like it is.

So when the junior from Salt Lake City told reporters via Zoom after Saturday’s first scrimmage of 2023 preseason training camp that the offense got the upper hand on Bywater’s own defense, there was no reason to question that humble admission.

“I thought (Kedon) Slovis played outstanding. I can see why that guy is a big-time guy. He just plays with so much poise and calmness. And he’s got some good playmakers around him. I just like what they did.” — BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill.

But it was also to be expected, as the offense was the better unit all of last season and is not undergoing a complete overhaul, as the defense is under new defensive coordinator Jay Hill.

The 105-play scrimmage, which was BYU’s ninth practice since camp opened back on Aug. 2, was closed to the general public, and the media. 

“I would honestly give (the win) to the offense today,” said Bywater, who is returning from shoulder surgery that kept him out of spring practices five months ago. “I think the defense, we had some tough stretches down there. And the offense played really, really well.”

Starting quarterback Kedon Slovis, the transfer from USC and Pitt who was brought in to seamlessly replace Minnesota Vikings backup QB Jaren Hall, is apparently doing just that.

When Hill was asked about Bywater’s assessment that the offense won the day, he said that was indeed the case “early on” and then mentioned Slovis’ play, without being asked specifically about it.

“I thought Slovis played outstanding,” Hill said. “I can see why that guy is a big-time guy. He just plays with so much poise and calmness. And he’s got some good playmakers around him. I just like what they did.”

Hill said the defense got better as the scrimmage wore on and “rallied back” with a strong finish. He declined to name defensive standouts, saying to be fair he wants to watch the film first. 

“I thought they had us on our heels,” Hill said of coordinator Aaron Roderick’s offense. “I thought they lulled us to sleep a couple of times. … We finished the scrimmage in the red zone (doing) two-minute (drills), and I thought the defense did a lot of great things in those segments.”

For his part, the savvy Slovis showed he’s been around the block a time or two by taking a more diplomatic approach when he was asked to declare a winner. He said the scrimmage was full of a lot of situational stuff that sometimes favored the offense and other times favored the defense.

“It is hard to say (who won),” Slovis said. “Certain periods I think one side probably won the drill. We do a lot of different stuff. Defense got stops when they wanted to, and we scored sometimes, too. So, I thought it was pretty balanced.”

Having arrived in Provo in January, Slovis is emerging as not only a team leader, but also a team spokesperson, as BYU quarterbacks often do whether they have been around for six years or six months.

“It is kind of awesome, like, after practice when the defense comes up to you and says, ‘Man, it is hard to play against you guys.’ Same thing for the (offense),” Slovis said. “I will go up to a (defender) after they make a play, or a group of guys, and tell them how tough it is to go against them in practice. I feel like we are getting each other better every day.”

Asked to name a highlight moment for the offense Saturday, Slovis said he couldn’t pick just one, but instead praised plays made by freshman running back LJ Martin, Colorado transfer running back Deion Smith, redshirt freshman receiver Parker Kingston and a touchdown caught by walk-on receiver Dom Henry — one of the stars of spring camp.

“We had a lot of great plays, a lot of great runs,” Slovis said. “I really want to shout out LJ, the young ‘un, for running really hard, and winning a couple of four-minute drills for us.”

Slovis even acknowledged one of his own mistakes — catching one of his deflected passes and attempting to throw it again — which is a penalty.

“I knew it was a penalty, but it is always good to get waxed up like that and (have it) show up in a scrimmage so you don’t make that same mistake in a game,” he said.

Bywater said his favorite defensive play was made by safety Talan Alfrey, who came up with an interception. He hinted that stopping the run was the defense’s primary problem.

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“I thought coach A-Rod’s play calling was top tier today. They just looked really crisp. They looked great. So it was exciting for me,” Bywater said. “Obviously, being on the defensive side of the ball you want to compete and win, but at the end of the day it is a win-win in this situation.

“The defense, I thought we did some good things, but obviously there is some stuff that we need to improve upon. I know over the next three weeks we will take care of that,” Bywater concluded.

Stopping the run has been an issue for BYU’s defense the past couple of years, along with getting off the field on third down and giving up too many long, clock-eating drives to opposing offenses.

Boise State’s Jackson Cravens and Isaiah Bagnah have been brought in to bolster the defensive line, and Hill said those transfers have looked good in camp. But on Saturday he mentioned returning starters Tyler Batty, Naisa Mahe and Caden Haws as having strong scrimmages.

Overall, head coach Kalani Sitake said he was pleased with the amount of live work the Cougars got in, and said although some guys got “banged up” in the lengthy scrimmage, there were no reports of anything major.

“I thought the team looked pretty good for it being three weeks out before the game,” Sitake said. “I saw some guys stand out. … We definitely do have some talented players and some great skill players.”

Finding a reliable kicking game has been a storyline for months now. Sitake said the Cougars did some special teams work, and expressed confidence in the kickers who struggled in the spring, without going into detail on what happened Saturday.