PROVO — BYU's 50-play scrimmage Saturday morning at LaVell Edwards Stadium focused on the younger, less-experienced players.
"A lot of great chances to see the young players play and get evaluations made for redshirting and depth decisions," said coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Another priority was to avoid the risk of having key players get injured, which is why numerous starters either sat out or saw limited action.
That speaks volumes about how far along Mendenhall believes his team is with two weeks to go until the season-opener at Ole Miss on Sept. 3. Asked if this team is further ahead than any of his other teams in his seven years at the helm, Mendenhall replied, "That's what I think."
Quarterback Jake Heaps said he and his teammates have put things together quickly during fall camp.
"Offensively, you saw us do really well at the beginning of camp just because we were able to install so much more at a faster rate than we anticipated. Our defense was very methodical in how they did things. Now both sides are caught up and way further ahead in installation than I think our coaching staff thought we would be, which is awesome. That means our guys are studying hard, paying attention and working hard on the field. It's been fun to watch this team grow and develop in all facets of the game, physically and mentally."
The Cougars' No. 1 offense started strong Saturday as Heaps — on his one and only series of the day — completed 5-of-5 passes for 52 yards on a drive that took 11 plays and covered 72 yards and resulted in a touchdown run by JJ Di Luigi.
On the defensive side, all of the front seven starters were sidelined as a precaution.
"I felt really pleased with what the offense did. I think the first group had a great drive," Heaps said. "We put it down the field wherever we needed to go. We converted on third downs and complemented it with play-action and the short pass game. Our 2's and 3's are doing a great job. They still have work to do, but they're doing a great job. The amount of depth we have on this team is phenomenal."
"I think offensively we ran the ball well. The short pass game looked good," Mendenhall said. "Defensively, the younger players' fundamentals are still lacking from what I saw. Still looking for the right chemistry in the secondary."
There are a couple of position battles still going on at this point, most notably at boundary and field corner.
Joe Sampson and Corby Eason manned those spots with the first-team Saturday, though Mendenhall said nothing has been determined yet in terms of who will start. Preston Hadley has had a strong fall camp at boundary corner and has seen significant time with the No. 1 defense.
The other intriguing battle is at left guard, where Houston Reynolds and true freshman Ryker Mathews have been rotating.
At tight end, Austin Holt appears to have the starting job nailed down, with an edge over Marcus Mathews, Richard Wilson and Devin Mahina. However, Mendenhall said several tight ends will play this season based on the formation, and "each will have their own role."
Though free safety Travis Uale is nursing cracked ribs, he remains the starter at that spot, for now, over Mike Hague, Mendenhall said. Hague has received a lot of playing time with the No. 1 defense in recent days in Uale's absence.
The backup quarterback race between Riley Nelson and James Lark remains fierce, Mendenhall said. Lark took snaps with the No. 2 offense during the scrimmage.
"The battle between James and Riley, they're both really good players," Mendenhall said. "James came into camp doing very, very well and continues. That battle's going to go on."
Nelson completed 3-of-6 passes for 55 yards while Lark was 4-of-9 for 35 yards and an interception (by Preston Hadley).
BYU returns to practice Monday with its final two-a-day session of fall camp. Next week, the Cougars will begin to prepare for Ole Miss in earnest.
"I've prepared for Ole Miss for a little while now. I've taken peeks at them and watched film on them," Heaps said. "As a team, we don't really start until Friday. That's my focus, whatever coach Mendenhall and our coaching staff wants to do, that's what we're doing. We're just focusing on getting ourselves better first and then on Friday will come Ole Miss. I'm excited."
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DAY 13: The Cougars held a 50-play scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The scrimmage consisted mostly of younger players with numerous starters being held out as a precaution.
STANDOUTS: In his one series, quarterback Jake Heaps was sharp, going 5-for-5 for 52 yards. The drive ended with a touchdown run by JJ Di Luigi. Earlier on the drive, Di Luigi recorded a 23-yard reception. Later, wide receiver J.D. Falslev caught a tipped pass good for a 36-yard gain from Riley Nelson. Placekicker Justin Sorensen booted a 57-yard field goal at the end of the scrimmage.
INJURIES: No new injuries.
NEXT UP: BYU returns to practice Monday, the final day of two-a-days.