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PROVO — BYU's offense has been on full display during the first week of fall camp, and Saturday's scrimmage was a time for the defense to catch up.
Mission accomplished, according to head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
The Cougars totaled seven whistle-sacks, two interceptions and three pass break ups while holding the offense to one official touchdown during fall's first Saturday morning outing at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"Defensively, the execution and assignments have taken a huge step forward in terms of preventing big plays and keeping points down," said Mendenhall, who also serves as defensive play-caller. "The first week, it was shifted offensively to big plays and balls going over the top and around everywhere."
Linebackers Harvey Langi and Manoa Pikula led the defense with four tackles each, and Fred Warner and Sai Tautu were among the front-seven who got to the quarterback seven times.
"There were lot of steps forward (Saturday), but there are so many steps we still need to take," Langi said. "But I'm glad we got to at least take a couple of steps. As a defense, we could be something special, and that was just something that can slingshot us into something special."
Jordan Preator, Michael Wadsworth and Butch Pau'u each added a pass break-up on one each of the offense's 39 attempted passes. Pau'u added one of two interceptions on backup quarterback Tanner Mangum, with the other pick going to Michael Shelton.
Defensively, the execution and assignments have taken a huge step forward in terms of preventing big plays and keeping points down. The first week, it was shifted offensively to big plays and balls going over the top and around everywhere.
–BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall
But the best part was strapping on the full pads for one of the first times at camp, and playing at the stadium for the first time, Langi said.
"That was probably my favorite part: being in the stadium," the Bingham High product added. "I love this stadium, and I love all my teammates — my brothers. We got to come out here on a Saturday morning and just ball out and play."
On offense, Taysom Hill completed 13 of 20 passes for 194 yards and a 47-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Nick Kurtz. Mangum made 4 of 10 passes for 47 yards and two picks, though he did have a long touchdown pass to Colby Pearson called back for holding.
Kurtz's focus, though, was on something he didn't do: catch a near-assured long touchdown early in the scrimmage.
"I thought I had it, ran a pretty good route, and I really just tried to roll my shoulder and catch it -- but then I heard the crowd cheer, and it bounced out," Kurtz said. "I laughed about it.
"You've just got to keep your mind on the game."
Running back Algernon Brown was held out during the scrimmage, and freshman Francis Bernard led the way with 22 yards on five carries from the back field. Adam Hine added 21 yards on three rushes, and Nate Carter had 11 yards on two carries for the offense.
"I would like to see more run defense, and more consistency in the run game in volume," Mendenhall said. "That hasn't been our focus, but we've also been in shells or no pads. We'll need a bit more work in there, and probably pretty quickly. We need to get a little more physical."
Riley Burt moved over to offense and ran for eight yards on four carries in his first scrimmage with that group. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound freshman from Box Elder High was moved to tailback from defensive back, in part to help provide depth at the position and also to counteract the earlier move of wide receiver Micah Simon to cornerback.
BYU was without leading receiver Mitch Mathews and center Tejan Koroma, among others. The freshman All-American center was held out to help Mendenhall and the rest of the coaching staff identify depth at the spot. Kyle Johnson was among the backup centers who rotated on the snap.
"There was a huge emphasis to make sure we know what happens if Tejan is not in there and what the looks like," Mendenhall said. "There were a few protection issues, which could've contributed to the pass game. We also held out Travis Tuiloma, so the inside matchup we tried to make neutral."
With the defense catching up, the offense will be forced to respond all next week, said Mathews, who believes he is close to a full return after surgery to repair an inguinal hernia in the offseason.
"I thought the defense outplayed the offense today, to be honest," Mathews said. "They came out pretty hot, and that's usually how it goes in a scrimmage.
"We're looking forward to next week's scrimmage. We have to step up and make big plays. As for the receivers, we could've done a little bit more."
But Mathews knows it's also only the end of the first week of fall camp.
"For what we did today, they were good and exciting," he said of the receiver corps. "It shows a lot of what will happen this (next) week."