Dick Harmon: Notre Dame just another game for Mendenhall

BYU coach expects more improvement against Irish

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 7 2015 2:41 a.m. MDT

PROVO — After two straight wins and now this week's trip to Notre Dame, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall expects his team to prepare for the Fighting Irish with the same formula — he expects improvement Saturday in South Bend.
Praising better execution by the defense and offense, Mendenhall said the Cougars have definitely done so at a higher level and with more frequency in wins over New Mexico and Colorado State.
Because the Cougars played a tough September schedule going against ranked Boston College and TCU, the competition level has fueled a sense of urgency the past few weeks. BYU's opponents have a combined 25-14 record, a 65 winning percentage. San Diego State (3-4) is the only Cougar foe who has not won more than lost.
Now that the Cougar offense showed a productive run attack the past two weeks, (274 yards rushing against the Rams) Mendenhall expects it will be tougher to rip off runs in weeks to come — and not just because one of the opponents is Notre Dame. It's a reaction to success.
"It should be harder," Mendenhall said. "CSU put more men in the box and tried to stop the run, but they missed some tackles."
What will happen, Mendenhall told reporters Monday, is teams will now prepare for the run and it will show in how they defend the Cougars. "The good part of that is that they have to spend time and work on in preparation for us — it's more preparation."
Mendenhall said BYU can certainly get better at running the football. While he was not impressed with how his receivers blocked downfield, he did like the effort in which "they tried to block their assignments."
Said Mendenhall, "If receivers would have blocked more effectively against CSU, Mendenhall said 12- or 15-yard runs would have gone for 30 or more.
Defensively, Mendenhall realizes injuries have cost his squad. But it's also opened up opportunities and he sees players stepping up making plays with the chances.
"In the game-changing situation, the execution has improved, but the effort level hasn't changed at all. After two weeks, I see more confidence in how they take chances with their assignments. In the 50-51 loss to TCU, we had nine players go down and were forced to put players in. With the repetitions nine others got the past few weeks it gave them an opportunity to sustain the level and energy of play we're accustomed to and like without a significant drop off. But we still have a lot of work to do."
Mendenhall said he watched the final three minutes of USC's win at Notre Dame and was impressed with the Fighting Irish. "They may have the best coaching staff I've seen."
Before his trip two years ago to South Bend, Mendenhall had never been to Notre Dame.
When asked if he is worried his team could get caught up in hype playing Notre Dame, Mendenhall answered, "No. We've got too much work to do. My job as a coach is to make sure we are focused on what we need to do to improve. There is a lot more this football team can do day-to-day, week -to-week."
Mendenhall said he'll be criticized for saying the same thing once more, but this week is one more chance to show his team can improve — even if it is Notre Dame.
"My focus is on this team and improving. Notre Dame — and I won't say just — but they are just our next opponent. I don't know if I'd be sending the right message to our players if I were to discuss this any different than playing Colorado State at home in a homecoming game in a conference race. Every week is a big week and this is the next one."
Notre Dame, could be emotionally drained after the loss to USC like BYU appeared following a tough 51-50 loss to TCU at home and struggled the next game, but Mendenhall dismisses the foundation for that speculation.
"I didn't have our team ready or prepared for San Diego State — that is the bottom line. Our players wanted to be ready and were looking forward to getting back on track and I think we were hopeful that would happen, but looking back, if our coaching staff had prepared our team better, we'd have performed better.
"From what I've seen of Notre Dame, their coaching staff prepares their team very well and it shows in how they play."
Where USC did not use instant replay against Notre Dame in South Bend, Mendenhall said he has requested replays this Saturday.

INJURY UPDATE: Senior noseguard Daniel Marquardt (ACL) will undergo knee surgery and is gone for the season. Manaia Brown or Vince Feula will likely move to Marquardt's position from defensive end and Justin Maddux will fill in. Senior cornerback Nate Soelberg (broken arm) will be out for six weeks and will be replaced by Kayle Buchannan, who is back from rehabilitation of a hamstring injury. Safety Dustin Gabriel (concussion) should be able to play.

TONGAN BACKS: With Fahu Tahi back in the lineup, another Tongan has stepped up with experience for the big senior. Freshman ManaseTonga said on a scale from one to 10 he rates his understanding at a nine with the running plays offense. "As far as running plays go, I'm solid. What I need to work on is picking up the blitz calls and blocking schemes. But I've made a huge jump, thanks to our coaches and the backs who have really helped me. Fahu has really given me a lot of advice and made me better.

OPPONENT'S RECORD: Cougar opponents have the following mark in 40 games at BYU's midway point in the season. Boston College 6-1, TCU 6-1, Eastern Illinois 4-2, SDSU 3-4, New Mexico 4-3 and CSU 3-3.

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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