Laura Seitz, Deseret News
PROVO — After taking a couple of weeks off — as the players took final exams and the coaches attended to recruiting duties — BYU returned to the practice field.
The Cougars practiced inside its climate-controlled indoor facility Monday. They will practice every day through Friday before taking a break for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. BYU departs next Monday for Dallas ahead of the Dec. 30 Armed Forces Bowl against Tulsa.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall liked what he saw in the first bowl practice.
"It was really good. The players were really excited, really enthusiastic," he said. "We got a ton of great work done in our meetings this morning. And it was refreshing to have a week where we weren't practicing and doing finals at the same time. That's the first year that's happened. The players were conditioning every day last week, lifting and running, but to not have to practice and not be cramming finals before a bowl game, that was a huge advantage to our program and for our kids academically."
Mendenhall said he is "very confident" in the practice model that his team is using, which is the same model that has helped BYU win four of its last five bowl games.
"The first year (as a head coach), I really didn't know how to prepare well for a bowl game, as I didn't really know how to be a very good head coach," said Mendenhall. "Starting from my second year, this is a very similar if not identical model."
Monday marked BYU's first organized practice since beating Hawaii in the regular-season finale on Dec. 3.
Mendenhall said the players "came out today like we hadn't had any layoff."
Added the coach: "From what I saw today, the players look fresh, they look anxious to play. They remembered exactly how we played against Hawaii. It's like a bye week. We had two of those and we played well coming off of it. I don't see why there would be any reason we wouldn't play well coming off another bye week, basically, is what it is."
INJURY UPDATE: Sophomore offensive lineman Houston Reynolds underwent shoulder surgery recent, Mendenhall said, explaining that Reynolds had been playing with a torn labrum. Reynolds will be sidelined for the bowl game.
LOOKING FOR WIN NO. 10: BYU sports a 9-3 record going into the bowl game. A victory would give the Cougars their fifth 10-win season under Mendenhall.
If that happens, Mendenhall would join Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Georgia's Mark Richt as the only active coaches with five 10-win seasons in their first seven seasons as head coaches.
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