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BYU football: Cougars counting on continued improvement at midway point

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 10:25 a.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall celebrates a kickoff with Brigham Young Cougars kicker Justin Sorensen (37) in the second half against Georgia Tech at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall celebrates a kickoff with Brigham Young Cougars kicker Justin Sorensen (37) in the second half against Georgia Tech at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

PROVO — BYU’s season opened with a head-scratching loss on the road to a lowly Atlantic Coast Conference opponent, Virginia.

The Cougars wrapped up the first half of the season last Saturday with an impressive 18-point home victory over another ACC foe, Georgia Tech.

In between, BYU has been evolving and finding its identity.

There was the surprising upset of Texas that saw the Cougars roll up a school-record 550 rushing yards, and then there was the fourth straight defeat to Utah.

At the midway point, the Cougars are riding a three-game winning streak. Four of their final six games are on the road, including Saturday’s contest at Houston (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPNEWS).

Offensively, coordinator Robert Anae’s "go-hard, go-fast" offense is finally finding its rhythm. During the first half of the win over Georgia Tech, BYU’s offense racked up 345 yards and 24 points.

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall during the first half as the BYU Cougars play Middle Tennessee on Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, in Provo. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall during the first half as the BYU Cougars play Middle Tennessee on Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, in Provo. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Are the Cougars approaching their potential on offense?

“I think we’re getting really close. I’m happy with the way we executed in the first half (against Georgia Tech),” said quarterback Taysom Hill. “We just need to get that killer instinct. If we play the way we did in the first half against Georgia Tech, there’s not going to be many teams that can beat us if we sustain that throughout the season because our defense isn’t going to give up a lot of points. My mentality is to continue to work and progress toward what we saw in that first half.”

The Cougars are going hard, and going fast, but not as fast as they were. BYU ran 96 plays against Virginia and 99 against Texas. However, the Cougars ran 82 against Utah State and 69 against Georgia Tech.

“I feel like everyone is starting to get more comfortable with the motive and the game is starting to slow down for me and for the guys around me,” Hill said.

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall stretches during a win over USU in Logan Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. BYU won 31-14. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall stretches during a win over USU in Logan Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. BYU won 31-14. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Defensively, BYU has had to adjust to playing more plays because of the offense’s tempo. How does safety Daniel Sorensen assess the defense’s performance at the halfway point of the season?

“I would say good. I wouldn’t say great,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve reached our potential. There’s been glimpses of good defense and there have been lapses and mistakes that we didn’t make last year. Adding more plays to the defense this year has caused us to try and be more disciplined and efficient on defense. That’s been a struggle for us as we take on more plays. That means there’s more chances to make mistakes and give up more big plays. I think there’s a lot of improvement for us on defense if we want to be like we were last year, or better.”

Brigham Young Cougars running back Jamaal Williams (21) finds running room in the first half against Georgia Tech at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars running back Jamaal Williams (21) finds running room in the first half against Georgia Tech at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

BYU was No. 3 in the country in total defense in 2012. So far, the Cougars rank No. 25 in that category.

What has coach Bronco Mendenhall learned about his team through six games?

“Our team will try hard. Our team is gaining consistency,” he said. “We have enough good players. The schemes are solid.”

Hill is excited for what’s to come. Unlike previous seasons as an independent, the Cougars have huge games in the month of November, at Wisconsin and at Notre Dame.

“Looking at our schedule, we have a lot of really big games coming up. That’s something we didn’t have to look forward to last year,” Hill said. “So we still have a lot of games left to be played and we can make a lot of attention on the national level. I’m looking forward to traveling and playing in some tough venues and proving ourselves and continue to get better.”

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