Since the beginning of fall camp, Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall has emphasized the goal of winning a conference championship and has not deviated from that, although he hasn't made it a point this week to stress the importance of Saturday's game. "These players know what our goal is and I trust they'll respond," said Mendenhall, "They don't need to be told how important this game is. I think they already know."
Linebacker Justin Luettgerodt agrees. "It's huge," he said. "We're all playing for a conference championship and that begins on Saturday. Coaches don't need to tell us, we know. We know that this is the game to make a statement that we're going to be back to where BYU should be and that's the top team in the conference."
Practices this week have been noticeably more intense as the players gear up for the conference opener against TCU. "We're definitely practicing at a faster pace," said Jake Kuresa, "I don't know if it's because we're getting better at the drills, if the coaches are making a point for us to practice with more intensity or that we just stepped it up. I like to think it's all three, but the pace and the intensity have really picked up this week."
"Oh yeah, you can definitely feel it," confirmed Watkins. "Everyone is stepping up this week in practice. I know I am. Every week we should step up and be better than the week before and I think we're seeing that this week."
The Bye Week Factor
The Cougar have the advantage of two weeks of preparation going against TCU. During that time the players have used it to refine their skills, fix mistakes encountered during the first two weeks, and most of all rest their sore bodies.
"The bye week came at a good time. It's good to have a week off to rest up and for a lot of the guys to get healthy," said Kuresa. "I think that's one of the main reasons why we've come out so intense and fast this week. We're well-rested and we're healthier. We're raring to go."
But not all the players are happy with all aspects of the bye week. "I hate bye weeks," said Luettgerodt. "It may have helped the team as a whole to get healthy, rested or whatever, but I hate them. I don't need them. I need to be out there hitting and knocking people around. Bye weeks are frustrating for me."
So how did the Cougar players spend their time on Saturday not having a game? "I watched football all day," said Kuresa. "I guess I'm a football junkie. I watched Boston College play Florida State, the USC game and a lot of others. I really wanted to see BC do well, they probably should have beat Florida State, but oh well."
Others ignore football if they are not on the field. "I didn't watch a single game," said linebacker Aaron Wagner. "Not even one. I'm not big on watching football, I'd rather play it."
Said Luettgerodt: "Watching college football when I'm not playing isn't something I do. I hate having to watch guys play instead of playing. I made a point not to watch any games this past weekend because I knew it would just frustrate me. I didn't watch a single game."
TCU will bring to Provo an offense that focuses on the run. They have a duo of very good running backs in junior Robert Merrill and true freshman Aaron Brown. TCU is 1-0 in conference play thanks largely to Brown, who had a breakout game against the Utes last weekend.
"Man, I didn't know number 23 [Brown] was a true freshman," said Luettgerodt. "He's pretty good. He's fast, he's quick and he'll be a challenge. I think we're up for the challenge for sure, but yeah, he's good. The other guy, number 33 [Merrill] is good, too."
Tye Gunn, the starting quarterback, is also a dangerous running threat, primarily on option plays. The challenges and possibilities involved in facing an option quarterback this Saturday make both Luettegerodt and Wagner.
Said Wagner: "I love playing the option. TCU does it sort of different. They pitch it a lot and the quarterback isn't as much of a threat to run it as it is with Air Force and other teams. But he'll be there and we'll hit him plenty if he has the ball or right after he pitches it. I love playing the option."
"I love hitting quarterbacks," chimed in Luettgerodt. "There isn't another player on the team I want to hit more than the quarterback. I even want to hit our own quarterback during most practices, but we can't (he laughs) and I'm sure they'd want to hit me as well. With the TCU running the option and passing it some as well we'll get lots of opportunities to hit their quarterback and we'll do just that. We'll try and hit him hard and as often as we can."