Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
PROVO — As BYU's spring practices wind down this week, quarterback Max Hall is encouraged by what he's seen.
Along the way, there have been some pleasant surprises.
"I could say the whole defense," said the senior QB, who completed 12 of 19 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns during Monday's 11-on-11 drills. "They're doing a really good job of switching up their coverages, doing different blitzes, doing different things to try to confuse the offense. That's good. And they're making plays. At times, they've gotten the best of us. It makes me have to realize what's going on and scan the field better."
Many times, Hall acknowledged, the defense "knows exactly what (the offense is) going to do. But that's OK because sometimes we play teams and they know exactly what we're going to do. But what we've always been good at is out-executing them. If they take away one thing, I've been able to get to a different thing. I've been really focusing on that with my eyes, and my lookoffs and my reads. As long as we can execute it, it's pretty tough to stop. I also think (offensive coordinator Robert Anae) is doing a good job using different formations, different looks, different things to confuse (opponents) that's really going to help us this year."
On the offense side, Hall said he's been impressed with his offensive line, which includes four new starters, as well as the stable of running backs. Junior Harvey Unga, sophomores J.J. DiLuigi and Bryan Kariya and freshman Malosi Te'o have turned in solid efforts during the spring, according to Hall. "That's what stands out to me most," he said.
Backup quarterback Brenden Gaskins has also done well this spring, Hall added. "Brenden made good decisions with the ball. Brenden will continue to get better. I think sometimes it's tough for Brenden being the backup. He's been the backup for two years now. What I appreciate about him is he keeps working hard. I couldn't ask for a better backup guy to have behind me. Hopefully he can get some shots to get into a few games this year and do some good things."
While spring ball has been productive, BYU is riding a two-game losing streak and finished third in the Mountain West Conference last season. That will continue to provide motivation during the off-season.
"The main thing for us is, we didn't win the championship. That's our goal every year, to win the conference championship," Hall said. "The games we lost we can go back and review and learn from them. But I wouldn't say we dwell on them too much or think about what-ifs. We learn from them and the mistakes we made and move on."
Hall is well-aware that the way the public perceives him changes depending on his performance. He was elevated to Heisman-Trophy-candidate status after throwing seven touchdown passes in a 59-0 shellacking of UCLA in September. He's been harshly criticized since throwing five interceptions in a 48-24 setback at Utah in November.
"My whole life I've dealt with both of them (praise and criticism). Any quarterback who has played here at BYU understands the good comes with the bad," Hall said. "You learn from it. You don't let outside influences get to you too much. People who really care about you will always support you no matter what. I really don't let that stuff affect me."
GIVING BACK: After Monday's practice, BYU players attended the unveiling celebration of a newly renovated home for the Nathan Jensen family.
Members of the team were among those who volunteered during the project — remodeling Jensen's home, which is located at 1025 W. 450 N. in Provo. Jensen suffers from sarcoidosis and the family has two sons who have muscular dystrophy.
The home received an addition, new plumbing, heating and an electrical upgrade. BYU players put up drywall as part of the project. Junior offensive lineman Jason Speredon initiated the team's volunteer efforts.
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