Several wide receivers could be seen at Cougar practice Tuesday trying diving drills over a large blue gym mat, but they weren’t the only ones: offensive coordinator Brandon Doman also dived for a ball, and even quarterback Jake Heaps took a turn at it.
Cougar practice enjoyed a far lighter and more positive mood this week than might be expected after such a devastating and lopsided loss to rival Utah on Saturday. The players seemed determined to put the loss behind them and reminded themselves they still have most of the season left to go.
“This week they’re just being really positive,” said junior nose tackle Romney Fuga. “They said just forget about the loss, learn from it, and just move on. If you keep on dwelling on it, it’s going to hold you back. Our coaches have been doing a really good job of having a positive attitude and creating a positive environment for the whole team.”
Unlike suffering fans, the players have no choice but to move on and throw themselves back into the grind. The Cougars play a tough, defensive UCF squad tonight at 6 p.m.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall was eager to point out several ways his players were looking to improve this week, admitting the team is further behind schedule than he had anticipated.
“There is no one that is more urgent, or wants the teams to perform at a higher level than [me],” Mendenhall said. “When we learn to secure the football at a higher level, when we have some running game that can add balance to the passing game with it and when we play four quarters of dominant defense, that’s when the team reaches its potential.”
After two running back fumbles and only 11 net yards rushing against Utah, the running game has been under scrutiny this week. Many have asked whether the running load should be shifted to a primary back rather than using all three equally.
“I think the design has to be looked at first and foremost and what runs are we doing,” Mendenhall said. “And then we need to look at with whom are we doing it and in what situation. That needs to become clear.”
Doman also acknowledged the running game needs an adjustment after failing to reach 100 yards rushing so far this season.
“We obviously have to do something different because if you do the same thing you’re going to get the same results … but we’re not going to panic,” he said.
The Cougars are hoping this week they will force their opponent to outplay them rather than beating themselves, particularly by taking care of the ball.
“We just need to put together some drives and finish,” said senior running back JJ Di Luigi. “We haven’t been finishing at all. We need to get the ball in the end zone.”
The Cougars will have that chance to redeem themselves tonight, and for some, the contest can’t come soon enough.
“I wish we could play right now,” Heaps said.