“There’s still some uncertainty as to what we’re going to be defending and also what we’re going to be going against in terms of their defense,” said the seventh-year BYU head coach who brings his Cougars to Oxford this weekend. “A lot of those questions are fairly common in a first game. From our standpoint, we return a lot of players. From Ole Miss’ standpoint, they have a few key players they are replacing in some critical spots.
“So to really predict the outcome or how the game will go will be difficult. The main focus is on ourselves, our schemes, our execution. We’ll put quite a bit of emphasis on gameday and matching up to what we see that we hadn’t predicted. Or maybe we predicted right and guessed right, and the schemes we prepared for were a match.”
Today is the first day of classes at Brigham Young University. Mendenhall said this week, with classes beginning and cross-country travel, is different.
“The players are usually a little bit more distracted and tired. I think we’ve adjusted our practice structure to reflect that. We got an extra day of work in on Saturday to try to take that into account.”
Mendenhall, who is 56-21 overall at BYU and was 7-6 last season, said thus far his team has been about what he thought it would be.
“There haven’t been many surprises. I liked our team coming out of spring practice. I like our team (now.) I think we have a lot of depth. I think we have good players.”
Mendenhall addressed a question concerning his team being favored at a Southeastern Conference school.
“I think it’s established credibility that’s been built over six years. We’ve won a lot of games and beaten some good teams. When you consider the consistency we’ve shown over six years, and a returning quarterback and a lot of returning players, I don’t think it’s anything against Ole Miss. I just think it’s a compliment based on credibility earned.
“Predictions don’t mean much. We have to go play and play well against a formidable opponent. But I do like the confidence reflected in our program.”
The Cougar mentor said he looks forward to playing on the road in the SEC to see where his team stacks up. He mentions perhaps playing more games in the future against SEC schools.
“I’m anxious to see how we measure and how we fit. National champions have come out of the SEC. Football is a really big thing there. There is a lot of pressure, a lot of exposure. Football is a big thing in the South. They have a lot of talent, good coaching, good tradition. I’m anxious to compete against those teams, maybe on a yearly basis to see where we stack.”
Mendenhall said his team will be as prepared as possible to play a road game in the heat and humidity of the late-summer South.
“It’s going to be hot and it’s going to be humid, and there’s no way to simulate it here. We’ve done extra conditioning, and we’ve told (the players) it’s going to be hot and humid. We’ve been to Florida State. I coached at Louisiana Tech. Some of our coaches have been elsewhere, and our training staff is ready. But there’s a fine line between not making too big a deal of it. They’re going to be tired and hot, and that’s a part of football as well.”
Mendenhall was asked about the mobility of the Rebels’ quarterback, in this case likely referred to by question concerning Barry Brunetti.
“I think we have more speed and experience (on defense than in the past). I certainly have more experience now after six years. We’ve seen some of the best mobile quarterbacks in the country the last three years. I think we have more experience to draw from, and the players who have played here can draw on that experience.
"Just by nature, a mobile quarterback causes problems, because most coverages are not designed to cover the quarterback. They’re designed to cover the running backs and receivers. If you don’t have the right people on the field in terms of pressure and athletes, sometimes you get outrun. I think we have a few more packages now to help us."
Mendenhall said heading into his seventh season, things surrounding the program are much different than when he arrived.
“There’s a lot of expectation, hope, and excitement. Much, much higher based on the kind of program we’ve had for the past six years. So now it’s not only are we expected to take another significant jump, which I think we’re prepared for, I’m hopeful that we are prepared for that. I liken it to the next step after six years to improve the program.”
Mendenhall said his team appears to be physically ready for the opener.
“It’s the healthiest I think a team has been coming out of two-a-days since I’ve been the coach. Our coaching staff has done a really nice job to this point.”