PROVO — Solid, but not great.
That was BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall's overall assessment of his team Monday.
"Given the reference point that I think any college football game is difficult to win, I'm pleased with that," Mendenhall said of his team's 4-1 record. "But certainly I see areas for improvement. If I were to give kind of a baseline, I think we're a solid football team right now. I wouldn't put us in the 'great' category yet because we're not playing great in all phases. I think we're good and I think we're solid. On any given day, we can play and compete with most teams in the country ... (It's) too early to say great because I don't think we've played great to this point in terms of the collective."
Breaking it down, Mendenhall said ball security and third-down defense are two main areas that he and his staff have targeted for improvement.
With 15 turnovers this season, BYU is tied at No. 115 in the nation in turnovers lost. Only three teams in the country have more turnovers than the Cougars.
"To be great, ball security will have to improve," Mendenhall said.
When it comes to third-down efficiency defense, BYU is tied for No. 104 in the country, having allowed opponents to convert 31 of 69 (44.93 percent) on third-down attempts. Meanwhile, three Mountain West Conference foes, and future Cougar opponents, are in the top 10 nationally in that category: Utah (No. 1), Air Force (No. 3), and TCU (No. 10).
"Third-and-long in particular, there has to be a few more of those stops we make," Mendenhall said.
BYU needs to be better in its punt and kickoff returns, the coach added. The Cougars are No. 76 nationally in punt returns (6.8 yards per return) and No. 100 in kickoff returns (19.36 yards per return).
With McKay Jacobson out 4-6 weeks with a pulled hamstring, O'Neill Chambers will handle punt returns and Chambers and J.J. DiLuigi will take care of kickoff returns, Mendenhall said.
LIFE OF RILEY: Backup quarterback Riley Nelson, a former Utah State QB, had a 13-yard quarterback draw during last Friday's 35-17 win over his former team. It was a play that Mendenhall said "wasn't necessarily for the Aggies in particular."
It could be a weapon the Cougars use more as the season goes on.
"Riley's pretty mobile. We had a chance to put a quarterback draw in," Mendenhall said. "I think he and (starter) Max (Hall) were going to race a 10-yard race to see who actually got to run it. But I kind of intervened. I happened to be in the quarterback meeting on that one. Knowing that Max wouldn't slide even if he got to the end of 10 (yards) and there was a truck in front of him."
Mendenhall reiterated that he would like to see Nelson play 12 quarters this season, but there haven't been many opportunities for Nelson to see action. He's completed 5-of-5 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown and has rushed three times for 15 yards and a touchdown this season.
"Unfortunately, based on how the games go, it will take a little bit more buffer than what we've currently been playing with to feel comfortable doing that," Mendenhall said. "I think our offensive staff is looking to do the same thing. We're looking for opportunities."
OLD MAN: Fullback Manase Tonga's wife, Lolohea, gave birth to a baby girl, Leila, three weeks ago. The couple also has a 15-month-old son, Semisi.
"Coach calls me 'Grandpa.' I'm the old man of the team, I guess," said Tonga, 25. "It feels like I've been here forever."
INJURY UPDATE: Two special teams players, Steven Thomas and Tucker Lamb, suffered concussions last week against Utah State. They are out until they can pass concussion protocol.