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Sept. 5, 2016

Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall

COACH Bronco Mendenhall: It’s good to be with you this morning. I think a quick update from what I saw now after having a chance to go through the film and spending a little bit more time in terms of analysis. There’s a pretty simple process that I go through just to get on common ground. There’s always an analysis component and then there’s a reframing and then there’s moving forward. And you’ll get familiar with that as we keep spending more time together. So the analysis part, I was, after watching the film was even more pleased with our quarterback than I was on game day. Completion percentage I think was right around 75 percent. He made good decisions. He threw the ball accurately and I think could have managed the game or I think did manage the game really well. So I was encouraged by him.

Inside receiver play I thought was strong also, so the connection between our quarterback and inside receivers especially. And then I think outside receivers basically took what was given to them in terms of our plan.

One of the surprises offensively, I would say is, I was expecting the running backs to have a really strong performance. They’ve been strong all camp, and kind of one of the main stays of our team in terms of consistency and production. So I was surprised that they weren’t as prevalent as what I had expected and the ball security issues, having the four turnovers, was a surprise because I hadn’t seen that manifest in camp. However, in regards to that, in looking at what I possibly could have managed better, we kept Smoke (TB Taquan Mizzell) out of all the scrimmages. We didn’t tackle him live through fall camp. And so I think any — again, I think players play as they’re prepared, and so I think in that particular case, that we — that I should have allowed him to be tackled a little bit and get him a little more prepared for that game. And so I think that was a coaching and management issue as well.

Defensively, I would say that I was encouraged and pleased by Jordan Mack; he’s a freshmen who was replaced Malcolm Cook, and for his first college game and having a lot of things thrown at him, I think he handled it pretty well. But in general, I overestimated the amount and volume of defensive schemes and calls and the number of things that our defense could handle in game one. And so simplicity will be a factor just to allow fundamentals and assignments to take over. And I think that will be significant help there. The brutal fact and the reality is I think everyone, players, coaches and maybe even — and certainly fans were hopeful this would be an immediate turnaround and an instant and an overnight success. There’s going to be a hard work of reality now that this culture is, there’s an engrainment and some habits that have come with losing and lack of success. I have a clearer idea now of what that looks like, but remain really optimistic.

I’m certain that we will have success. When and how much, that will remain the question. But the kids are willing, discouraged and, again, their ability to reframe, I think they were as hopeful as anyone that this would be an immediate turnaround. But it’s going to take time. And how much I’m not certain. But again, I am positive that it will happen and that the scheme, strategy and coaches that are here will be able to pull that off. But lots and lots of work ahead, steep learning curve still to come. The path doesn’t get any easier, nor will it. But undaunted in terms of the approach.

Q. I’m not sure you took any questions or many about Jordan Mack during training camp. At what point this summer did he emerge as a guy you might be able to count on?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: Yeah. Really not this summer, other than he showed up in really good shape and he was a leader amongst the freshmen, but he really wasn’t getting much work even through fall camp. It was out of necessity with injury that his role became elevated. And he’s going to end up being a significant contributor out of necessity for what our current depth and injury situation looks like but he looks capable and he’s worth investing a lot of time in. So it’s really interesting. The players that haven’t played much in this program, even some that have been in the program for quite some time, they played eager and hard and intent and remained optimistic all the way through. It was really fun to watch. But there are players that have been here for a while that, man, some of their previous experiences, those habits run deeper, and I could see them battling with that along the way. And so there are some new habits that have to replace some of the old. But we’ve known that all along.

Q. Regarding Smoke and the fumbles, I assume you’ve seen tape of him play last year. Didn’t have a whole lot of fumbles. When you look at the way he was hit the other day, did it appear they were trying to strip the ball from him? Was there something in particular that he wasn’t doing?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: No. I think it’s just, again, lack of number of hits that he had preparing to go in the first game. And so, again, between Coach (Mark) Atuaia, Coach (Robert) Anae and myself, I think that’s an over protection of making sure we can get our most experienced and possibly the best players going into camp to the first game, but probably missed too far on the protection side. There was nothing unusual about the hits that he took.

Q. You mentioned last Tuesday on your radio show that at your first scrimmage at Scott Stadium the team seemed a little more tentative because they were not used to success there. Can you expand a little bit more on that? Did you see those types of faces on Saturday?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: I did actually. Not at the beginning, but just as the game was playing out and fairly early on just as there were breaks here and there and when timeouts were called. That was the first … it was really interesting. I was telling Holly this, my wife, it’s been 11 years since I’ve seen something like that – after taking over BYU, after they had three losing seasons. It was really foreign. At first it was difficult to identify but then there was the reality of “Oh, this is what they know.” That was a reality of the threshold to have the players, and maybe even the community, revert back or be used to that is kind of something that I saw. It was like in slow motion. I think that’s to be expected. While I was hopeful that the roots and new strategies or the new habits would have been deeper, that is where it is.

And so I think another really interesting statistic and you might view this one way or the other, but I don’t remember a penalty being called on our team in the game. And that to me is not necessarily a positive thing, meaning this, that there is a line where the rules are, and John Wooden actually used to say that he thought the team that made the most mistakes would win, because they were pushing the envelope right to the border of what the rules would allow. And so they were aggressive, they were assertive; they were confident, and I believe this is the first team I’d ever coached where there were no penalties. And so our current team — and again, this is just a reflection of just where we are. Here’s the line, and they’re certain they don’t want to go over it, and it’s not allowable to kind of get close, and so I’m finding myself encouraging the confidence and the position mastery and the fundamentals that actually require them to be right next to that line. And so that was an epiphany that kind of hit as I was watching the film. And that doesn’t mean I want penalties for the sake of penalties. Hopefully you’re understanding the context in which I’m putting that.

Q. You’ve had some experience, just glancing at the history of reframing at BYU. When you’ve had success turning things around, what form has it taken? Has it been personnel changes or more just staying the course?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: Yeah. It’s been both. There is a delicate balance. First is getting to know and ensure I know our existing personnel and what they’re capable of. And fall camp was one indicator, and while I’d like to say I was skilled enough to say I had an exact idea, I had a strong idea, but my idea is different now after seeing Saturday. And so who touches the ball, who’s featured on rushes, where the coverage can be, all those things now start to shift in terms of percentage and scheme to then allow the current players to have the best chance to execute. And after that’s seen, then and only then will I know if there’s any other significant changes that have to be made. But I know more now than obviously I did before the game. And the reframing is that the hill is steeper and longer than what I had thought at the beginning, but that doesn’t mean the outcome can’t be any different.

Q. You used a number of defensive linemen the other night. How did that group do collectively and were there any individuals who stood out?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: Yeah. We did. And we’re learning a lot about that group as well. So Donte Wilkins I would say probably had the strongest performance of any defensive lineman up front and played, man, I’m not sure, 51 plays maybe and could probably handle 10 more, I would say, maybe 12 more. I was impressed with a lot of the things that Andrew Brown did as well, once he got settled in. The first quarter was wild eyed and not as assignment sound, but still productive in making plays but not within necessarily the scope of assignment or technique, and as the game went, that became more methodical and systematic and consistent which happened with a number of the players.

Probably the biggest emerger would be Eli Hanback. He ended up having probably the third or second strongest performance of the defensive line. And then the next two would be probably James Trucilla and Jack Powers. I always get he and Jack English mixed up. But those guys proved that they can have a role. And that’s good, because with the speed and pace of the team that we’ll be playing coming up, you know, running a play every 22-ish seconds, it’s nice to be able to substitute when possible. And those guys have given themselves, at least through game one, they’ve earned some trust.

Q. Was the game a little fast for Steven Wright? That was his first college game?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: To begin with. As well for a number of players, as first-timers, so there is experience at the inside linebacker spot and the two safeties. Other than that, a lot of, as our coaches are saying first-time rodeo guys because they know my background. And so as the game went on, some adjusted fairly well, and others it still seemed a little fast, which might mean game two or game three is when they’ll catch up with it. But a lot of moving parts and a lot of one player catching up and another player not quite catching up, which led to some inconsistencies, and especially at the point of attack over time allows the ball to keep being moved.

Q. You’re a very contemplative kind of guy. You’re obviously very focused on process, very focused on organization. What are some things looking back on — with Saturday’s result considered, is there anything about fall camp that you would change, you think you would go back and do differently knowing now what you know?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: It’s a fair question. I don’t think there’s anything that I would have changed in fall camp other than again making a few of the running backs live as we were tackling in scrimmages. I think that would have helped. And then I would say I overshot on — so running a very similar system defensively for about 13 years and having pretty bright and smart kids here, I was really impressed with how quickly they were picking things up. But a little overestimation on how ready some of the first-time players were in relation to the volume that I gave them. And so those two things, less defense to play and more contact on the running backs would probably be the two main things that I would say if I were to go back now and say if I could change anything.

Q. Olamide (Zaccheaus) had some pretty good stats for just playing 30 minutes. I believe that I saw that he used the term that he’d been humbled before the game. Are you good with him going forward, and how electrifying can he be? You didn’t have him for kickoff returns and that was one of his specialties.
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: Yeah. We could have used him for kickoff returns, and Olamide is a great young man. And I am someone that loves principles, and I think every choice is based on a principle, and principles are based on beliefs, and sometimes especially when you’re young, things get kind of cloudy.

So O made a mistake in violation of the team rules, but to his credit, he acknowledged it before I found out from anyone else and called me and said what had happened. And that lessened the severity for him taking ownership. It cost him the first half of the game, as well as a few other things, and he handled it really well and maturely and would have helped our team the entire game. But he did a nice job when we had him and look forward to having him going forward.

Q. Using the term first-time rodeo, maybe particularly for a couple of your corners with Juan Thornhill and Myles Robinson, how did they grade out on Saturday, and what’s that position like? I know there’s not a lot of depth there, and you’ve had some attrition and things like that with (Darius) Latimore’s status. How do you view that position right now?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: Yeah. Juan has been really impressive from spring in and through fall camp and for the most part in the game had a nice first game, I would say solid. There were plays where the coverage could have been tighter. There’s plays where the coverage could have been more precise. There’s times where the communication could be at a higher level. However, for our first game, I think he did — had a solid performance. And Robinson was similar. I didn’t have as many opportunities, but will have a role on our team, and there will be some reclassification of assignments and roles each and every week for the first couple here as we get to know our personnel and what their current capability is based on only when they play a game. But those two are in good standing and will continue to play.

Q. When George Welsh first got here, he had some of the same issues, I guess, that you’re confronting.
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: Makes me feel a little bit better, I guess.

Q. He used to talk about the team had to learn how to win. Didn’t know how to win. How do you go about doing that part of the mental work and the confidence work to get that part turned around?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: We actually were talking about it today as a staff. I lost a lot of sleep over the weekend just in terms of I think that’s what an owner of something does. I remember when my dad used to take off hauling horses somewhere and he’d leave me in charge of the place, I used to lose sleep over are the sprinklers set, are the gates closed, and that’s different than being an employee, so I’ve been losing sleep over the same kind of things. So examples and modeling is really important. And so my coaches all know how to win, and that’s what we know and that’s what we’ve done.

And so it was really foreign, again, seeing some of the expressions and the body language on game day from some of these kids that I care about so much already. That’s been an interesting epiphany as well is how much I really care about these kids and want them to have success, and then actually just showing them what resiliency looks like, and that it is the next play. And there always is an opportunity to reclaim momentum, and so I think that — and what I’ve asked my staff to do is intentionally show not only in practice but on game day what that looks like, because I think that every stone needs to be cemented in place firmly, and the current team isn’t used to coming back from behind. They’re not used to battling back with positive outcomes, and so that whole idea is a little bit new.

In fact, I showed today a clip — and I don’t think this is too intimate. We had a really unique bowl game, down like 35 points in nine minutes or something and there was a time in the second quarter it was 35-14 and I showed a clip of the sideline, and BYU’s sideline was cheering like we had just won the game. All we did was make a stop on third down, but the entire side believed that they were going to come back and win. And then I forwarded that and matched that with a clip of our sideline and in a very small margin deficit, and just the demeanor. And so the contrast of this is what it looks like, but this is what it looks like because this is what the beliefs are and that it is possible. So hard to say there’s confidence that’s going to come before outcome, but I think we can continue to move and model it that way, and eventually the outcomes will help, but right now hopeful is where the team is, confident is what they’ll have to earn, and I have to help them with that.

Q. We saw Dowling catch a touchdown pass one minute and then the next time we see him he’s got an arm in the sling. You also indicated something was up with Malcolm Cook. I know you can’t really talk about injuries, but (Andre) Levrone didn’t appear late in the game? Can you talk about where he is?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: Anticipate Levrone for this upcoming week. And I don’t know the status on Doni. But again, Levrone, I think what I can say is you can expect him.

Q. With you going out west to play more again, obviously that’s a territory you used to recruit at BYU. Nobody from that territory is in your current class. Is that somewhere you want to get back into recruiting wise?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: I would say that we will take and would be interested in University of Virginia fits no matter where they come from. The early report to me after being here the eight or nine months that I have been is there are enough players close that wouldn’t warrant us spending extra time and resources. While we do have coaches that own those states and own the schools that they once had and those relationships and those coaches are still referring, which is happening, I think originally the intent was that we would go place in games out west to increase the footprint in possible talent acquisition. And so with my staff coming from that area, those relationships are strong. And so I don’t see the need for scheduling like we’re doing in the future to go out west because our relationships are strong already. And those trips take extra time and effort and resources, and there’s a lot of great teams and teams close that we could play that I think would make a lot of sense in going forward. So the answer to your question is we’d be interested in any UVA fits wherever they’re from. Most of those are going to come from referral even though we are having coaches visit California and Hawaii and some of the areas that we used to have.

Q. Just kind of shifting gears looking ahead to Oregon, I know during the fall you talked about wanting to play and practice with pace considering Oregon plays with high pace. How do you feel going into this game?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: Another new challenge, based on the current level of our team and experience, it’ll be significant. Assignments, alignment and managing the pace, those things now are multipliers. So again, if your team is experienced, knows the assignments, anticipate what the opponent’s doing, has position mastery, then it would just be the pace. The stage we’re currently — or the energy it’s taking to align to communicate and then execute, in addition to the pace, those are all multipliers. So I think it’ll be a significant challenge, and I think maybe the best way principally to talk about what I see in reframing, I have a simple statement that comes from a book, and it simply says the only way out is through — we have significant tests coming up that we have to go through, and that’s going to season our team, it’s going to shape our team, it’s going to mold our team, it’s going to unite our team. But it’s also going to expose the things that need to be exposed for us to grow and get better. This is one of them, so we’re excited for the test.

Q. I never heard you underestimate Richmond coming in the game. How good is Richmond and talking about communicating that to the players so they realize they didn’t lose to some lower division team?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: Yeah. I’m glad you asked that. I think Richmond is a good team. I think they’re really well coached. They did a great job in terms of preparation. They actually used a scheme very similar to — probably the best defense I coached at BYU, we were first, second or third in every category defensively, and Oregon state came in one year and was able to score points on. And their plan resembled that a lot. So they had thought about it a lot. They researched it well.

I thought they recruited well. The program reflected maturity. I think their interiors were physical. I think their skill was strong. I think their quarterback was very accurate and poised and mature, and I think they ran for not only speed, but power. And I think defensively they did a nice job keeping the ball in front of them and inside of them. And so I’d be surprised if that team doesn’t have a lot of success this year. And that’s really regardless of level.

I thought they were well coached and had good players. And so again, I don’t get too caught up into which team we’re playing, but they deserve credit because they were well prepared and reflected a more mature, experienced and seasoned program that knew how to win and has had some success.

Q. One thing that’s plagued this program the last couple of years, last four years is winning on the road.
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: I’ve heard that.

Q. Have you researched why that’s happened? Do you have a specific plan for the road and how do you kind of help to break that?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: You know, it’s just one of the things we’re addressing, and again, it goes a lot to just what I saw on the sideline with some hesitancy and tentativeness, and again, hopeful but not confident. And so we have to model what and how you carry yourself in terms of preparation of winning football games, period. And that’s regardless of whether it’s in Scott Stadium or on the road. And so again, every single brick has to be put in place just right or it will manifest somewhere else as we get a few layers up. And so I’m confident we can do that, and eventually that breakthrough will happen. Again, the biggest unknown now is time, but man, the resolve and certainty to me hasn’t been deterred at all. I’m just really clear it’s going to be harder longer than what I originally thought. And I think that’s fair just to be open with you.

Q. Coach Anae alluded to the offensive line play in his post-game remarks. What did you see from the tape?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: Similar to what I saw from some of the rest of the team. Capable, but tentative. And so again, rather than tenacious, physical resolve with precise and sharp execution, kind of right, sort of okay, fairly consistent, but capable. And so this would be a different story if I didn’t think there was capability on the team. There’s capability. But having that come to fruition, that’s a master teacher’s job, right, and one of the challenges that all of us came for and so they were reflective really I would say of everyone else out of what they looked like. So inconsistent and hopeful rather than precise and tenacious.

Q. You mentioned the running back play was really good, and in training camp, Daniel Hamm no touches, offensive touches on Saturday. Any reason for that? Where is he going to go in the game plan?
COACH Bronco Mendenhall: I’m not sure of the exact reason. I would just say the nature of the game, Kurt was throwing it well. We were behind, and probably those things contributed maybe more than anything specific to Daniel. And I like him a lot, as do our coaches. And he’s a really good player. So I would say those two things contributed rather than saying those are the only reasons. That to me just makes sense of how that played out.

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