Provo • The BYU Cougars face three tough tests to start the 2013 season, beginning with the Aug. 31 cross-country trip to Virginia, followed by the home opener on Sept. 7 against No. 15 Texas. After a bye, BYU plays host to a team that has defeated it three straight times: Utah.
Obviously, the Cougars need to break out of the gates quickly, especially on offense
But after Wednesday's final scrimmage of preseason camp at LaVell Edwards Stadium, new offensive coordinator Robert Anae again tempered expectations, saying the Cougars might not be firing on all cylinders until midway through the season.
"You really know what you got, probably midseason," he said. "So to jump to early conclusions is way, way premature. Right about midyear, toward the latter half of the year, I hope we can hit the nail on the head with who we are."
On Wednesday, they were sluggish on offense, Anae and starting quarterback Taysom Hill acknowledged. Of course, many of Hill's expected weapons this season senior receivers Cody Hoffman and JD Falslev and sophomore running back Jamaal Williams did not play. Probable starting offensive linemen Ryker Mathews, Terrance Alletto and Solomone Kafu were also held out.
"We started kind of slow, but toward the end the guys kind of pulled themselves [together] and had a better showing than in the beginning," Anae said. "We didn't convert a couple of third downs, and we were kind of rusty throwing and catching. But that's the purpose of coming to the stadium, to experience those kinds of events here."
Reminded that BYU can't afford another slow start, due to its schedule, Anae referred to his oft-repeated analogy of running a marathon.
"With a couple players that we are looking at, they are going to have years to develop in the offense, so yeah, sure, everybody wants to win all your games. But I would like to be able to develop ourselves with a long-term plan," Anae said.
Hill said the offense "was more sluggish than I was obviously hoping for," and agreed that it is still "in the developmental stage," but also spoke confidently about being ready when it needs to be.
"I feel confident that we know the offense and we can execute it at a high level and that if we play well, we can go in and beat Virginia," he said.
Mendenhall said the purpose of the scrimmage wasn't to assess how ready the offense is at this point, but to get better looks at different younger players and solidify the depth chart and who will make the traveling squad.
"I think our knowledge of the offensive system, and the tempo, is probably ahead of where I thought it would be," Mendenhall said. "Execution, we will have to see on game day, really."
At the end of the scrimmage, the offense came alive, sparked by a rugged, tackle-breaking 27-yard run from former Skyline High product Algernon Brown that set up a 21-yard touchdown pass from Ammon Olsen to tight end Devin Mahina. Prior to that, the highlight was a 56-yard strike from Hill to Brett Thompson that set up Paul Lasike's 1-yard TD run.
The defense held out frontline players as well, including linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Robertson Daniel, the junior college transfer who is being asked to be the starting field corner after Jordan Johnson's season-ending knee injury, intercepted an Olsen pass for that unit's highlight of the day.
What we learned • The Cougars held their final scrimmage of fall camp on Wednesday, and the tight ends emerged with big plays after being silent most of camp.
Who was hot • Devin Mahina caught a 21-yard touchdown pass, Brett Thompson caught a 56-yarder, and Algernon Brown made some nice runs, picking up 33 yards total.
Who was out • Safety Craig Bills left the field with an apparent shoulder injury, but returned after the scrimmage and said he was fine.