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With five games to play in his team's regular season, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said "there's a real urgency as the clock is ticking, and I don't think we've reached the level we can play at."
The coach the comment at the start of his weekly broadcast of "BYU Football with Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall," broadcast on KSL Radio from LaVell Edwards Stadium.
You can hear the entire broadcast by clicking on the audio link in the "Cougar Cuts" box to the left, or by going to the show page audio archive in the "BYU Sports Menu."
BYU has won each of its past four games, improving to 5-2 on the year. Mendenhall recalled the team's rocky 1-2 start to the season and what changes had to be made to bring BYU to where it presently stands:
"The most surprising thing that happened this year and maybe in my coaching career to this point was the seven-turnover loss to Utah here. I didn't see it coming. Through halftime, I thought the second half would be one of those games right down to the last play."
That game, Mendenhall explained, was when he realized that "we needed to take the steps to improve our football team and do it in a very timely manner. We weren't scoring as many points as necessary, we weren't moving the ball, nor was our identity becoming clear. And that really happened all the way until about halftime at Utah State. We were finding ways to win, but we weren't really gaining momentum."
Halftime at the game against Utah State was where backup quarterback Riley Nelson took the helm from starter Jake Heaps, who hasn't seen a down since. "If you now look collectively at the last five weeks," Mendenhall went on, "we're starting to play better football, cleaner football, more balanced football, and more complete football than we were earlier. And that part is gratifying."
"But," he paused, "there still is so much untapped potential. That's the real urgency I feel with five weeks to go as the clock is ticking: I don't think we've reaching the level I think we can play at."
Running back Michael Alisa has run for 177 yards and a touchdown, averaging 4.5 yards a carry, since assuming a featured role in the home win over San Jose State, and the Timpview High School product joined us for the third segment of the broadcast.
Mendenhall expressed his surprise at Michael's emergence as a great running back. "He was originally on the defensive side of the ball," Mendenhall said. "And we believed that he'd be a strong special teams player for us this year. We thought that would be his primary role. We didn't see him as being a primary ball carrier, and yet here we re now in week seven, and he's a primary ball carrier."
"When you're running the football now for 200-ish yards per game, I'm a lot more comfortable. If you're running for 200, throwing for 200, and then Riley's doing whatever he's going to do in addition to that, you've got a chance to score around the 30-point mark, and that's going to win you a lot of games."
BYU wide receivers coach and former WR Ben Cahoon also joined us for the second segment of our broadcast. Cahoon is in his first year as a coach after a 13-year professional career in which he became the Canadian Football League's all-time receptions leader and contributed to three Grey Cup championships. His path to playing football at BYU, however, was marked with more struggle; he said that coming out of his senior season at Mountain View High School, he was "small," "undersized," and "not too fast."
"That's three strikes against you, right there," Cahoon laughed. "But I ended up walking on at Ricks College and had a decent career there. I had some scholarship offers from smaller schools, but I wanted to get back to BYU. I felt like I epitomized the typical BYU receivers and that I could play here and compete here. So I walked on at BYU and eventually earned a scholarship and played quite a bit in my junior and senior seasons."
Many notable Cougar football players have similar stories; Chad Lewis, former BYU TE and another one of our guests from an earlier "BYU Football with Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall" show this season, walked onto the team in 1993 and three years later was regarded as one of the best tight ends in the season.
"This idea that kids deserve and warrant a scholarship from BYU right out of high school, there are only so many. And for so many of these players like Ben, like Chad Lewis, like the rest of us, you pick the school that you love, that you absolutely believe is the right place for you, and you go carve your way in and believe in yourself. There is a lot of value to that, and I'd like to see more of that, frankly, in the recruiting process from everybody."
Up next for BYU is the Idaho State, which, according to Mendenhall, "throws the football for 330 yards a game. They literally throw almost every down." He went on to preview the team: "They have a quality tight end who transferred from Boise State, and they have a very tough quarterback who's been sacked almost 40 times this year and still keeps going. He's a scrambly, feisty competitor. (Idaho State) plays 3-4 on defense and are fairly complex and play hard, and I'm sure we'll see this as a great opportunity to come in and compete and see how we measure up.
When asked how he prepares his team for a pass-heavy offense like Idaho State, Mendenhall said, "We could do one of two things. That's based on either our matchups against the offensive line and how capable we think we are in getting to their quarterback, or if we're really impressed with their offensive front, then it comes into how many different coverages we can play effectively and making sure that we can keep the passing yardage under control so it's usually tapered one way or the other." "The other part, then, is the mobility of the quarterback. Because if it's a mobile quarterback, there are a lot of other things now that you have to consider and do a little more scramble drill work."