"We came into this season wanting to go 13-0," said senior quarterback John Beck. "After the first game, that can't happen. We then said, ‘Okay, we want to go 12-1.' Well, we just lost another game so that can't happen, so as far as worrying about these last two loses, we can't let that happen. All of our focus goes towards Utah State and winning this game."
The Cougar football team went into Chestnut Hill with disturbing self-doubts. At halftime, Coach Mendenhall chided his charges for being surprised that they were beating a top ranked ACC team.
"We've got the ability, we've got the plan but we just need to put it all together," said tight end Daniel Coats. "It's sad that it's in our head, but it comes out on TV, and we see it every week, the thinking that, ‘Oh, this is a huge ACC team and the National Championship always goes through the ACC' and everything. We wanted to come out and make our name known, but I think you get into that underdog mode too much. Sometimes it helps but sometimes it hurts."
Senior tight end Daniel Coats feels that once BYU went out and scored on the Eagle defense, the team got to comfortable and lost their focus.
"We took a lot of things for granted," said Coats. "We came out on that first drive and we were expecting this ACC team that was supposed to be better than us and we scored. I think from there we got this mind set that we were good, and we can go put up points against these guys we just need to go do it. I think from then we just kind of took things for granted. We had plays here and there where we lost mental focus a little bit and penalties started adding up."
The Cougar coaching staff is working to instill a winning attitude in their players. After losing 12 straight games to ranked opponents, the team may have developed a defeatist mentality. Some have taken the coaches' counsel to heart and believe that they can play with anyone on their schedule, but others are lacking that confidence.
"[Our coaches] tell us every week that we need to get that confidence back—for us to get back to where everyone fears us like the old BYU teams," Coats said. "Everybody treated them as if they were an ACC team or a Texas or USC team. The guys that come back and talk to us about it, that's how they were. They came out and said, ‘Yeah, we're going to win this one. It might be ugly or it might be a blowout but we're going to come out on top.' We have a good ¾ of the guys on the team that are like that. We don't have everybody there yet but we're getting there. The more and more we play these games the more everybody sees that, ‘Yes, we are this good and we should be beating teams like this.' It's coming and I think we'll get there."
"It's tough because all I can do is speak for myself, and I've never felt that way," said Curtis Brown referring to fearing ranked opponents. "I looked at that team and the guys across from me and felt that, yeah, they're a physical team and they have athletes, but should we have scored 40-plus points on that team. Yes, we should have but that's the difference in those top teams. Those are the guys that make the fewer mistakes. When you're young you like to think, ‘Well, they have better talent than we do. They have better coaching and things like that.' When it comes down to it, they made fewer mistakes than we did. That's the difference. It's such a thin line between the top 25 teams and the rest of the country. When it comes down to it, those guys aren't the most disciplined but are better disciplined than us. It's plain and simple. They made fewer mistakes, they caught more balls, they executed more plays, and they won the game. It's that simple."
BYU had three losing seasons under former Head Coach Gary Crowton. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall, who majored in sports psychology, is slowly turning the hearts and minds of this team so that they believe they are different than recent teams. Coach Mendenhall found that there is greater success when the players have ownership of the team and when they are accountable for each other.
"We have great leaders on this team," said Coats. "With John [Beck], he will not let anyone think that we are not superior, and it's the same way with Cameron [Jensen]. He'll get in your face and we've got so many great captains that know how to talk to guys in certain ways. Some guys need to be yelled at, and some people need to be taken to the side and be told. With the amount of young guys we have on the team, we definitely have great leaders to bring up the perception that we are just as good as any team out there. It's just going to take some time but it's going to happen."
So with the cogs in place to help the team grow past the mental barriers and the shortcomings of years past, what is left to do? BYU racks up stats after stats both offensively and defensively but simply could not find ways to win against Arizona and Boston College.
"Statistically it's a game we should have won," said Brown. "One thing I've always said when you talk about individual stats, team stats, team goals and this or that, the number one goal is winning and we didn't accomplish that. There are a lot of positives that did come out of this game, but we're not where we want to be. I don't think any of the fans should feel that this team is satisfied with the outcome of the game. We didn't win and that's our ultimate goal every single week, day in and day out. Our focus is winning and not putting up individual or team stats of 500 yards of offense. We want to win and score as many points as it takes to win, but this team is a lot better than what we used to be.
"When you take a look at this team in comparison to years past, we're heading in the right direction. This isn't a team that is fading out. We're getting better and better each and every week, and that's what is positive about this team. We have nine games left to play in season and a bowl game. If we go ten and two we forget about these two loses and we go into that bowl game confident that we're going to win, and that's how we're going to look at it. We have to take it one game at a time, and we're going to come out and play this Utah State team as hard as we can."
BYU fans expect a senior laden team to win close ball games. Expectations are not only high from the fan base but also high from those who are playing their last year as a Cougar. For some of those seniors, expectations run both ways.
"The fans have high expectation of us as do we, but we also have high expectations of the fans," said Curtis Brown. "The fans want us to go out and win games, but we expect the fans to stay until the game is over and to wear blue. The fans expect a lot and we expect a lot out of ourselves, but we also expect a lot out them as well. I was a little disappointed during the Tulsa game to not see the stadium sold out, but I guess we still have something to prove and we'll keep trying to do that day in and day out. We're going to continue to try and prove that we deserve to be a top team, and deserve to be watched during national televised games. We're going to try and definitely do our part. This team is not going to back down to anyone. We stepped up and rose to the occasion, but when it came right down to it we made more mistakes than [Boston College] did."
The fan base might not be meet the expectations of the players, but players expect to continue to improve and compete at a higher level. After a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Boston College, the team is doing its best to learn from the experience and move on with the rest of the season in focus.
"I think the tone was set during our weight lifting," Beck said. "I felt like a lot of guys were excited when they came in and lifted today. One of the best lessons I've learned is, all players are going to make mistakes. No player is going to play every single football game that they play in and play an amazing game. No team is going to win every single game they play and there is no team that has won every single game. The best quote I've heard about this lesson is, ‘The players that play the best are the ones with the shortest memory.' Mistakes are going to happen and you're going to lose games in double overtime. You obviously don't want to but you have to be able to put it behind you. You just have to forget about it. We see when we go and watch film, we want to learn from our mistakes and then let it go."
The O-line Shuffle
With four-year starting tackle Eddie Keele out for the season with a leg injury, BYU coaches are becoming a little creative with the remaining offensive linemen. Senior guard Jake Kuresa moved to center during today's practice and Dallas Reynolds moved to left guard with David Oswald taking his old right tackle spot. Travis Bright took over the right guard spot for Kuresa.
Even minor shifts in the O-line can affect the unit's chemistry, so a major change like the one the Cougars made to day will raise concerns among fans. Beck feels this there is nothing to worry about due to the experience of this group.
"I think that if it were young guys it might be a problem," Beck said. "The nice thing is, those guys that we will move around, guys like Jake and Dallas, who has played in 15 football games so far and isn't young as far in football experience, are experienced and will allow those guys who are young stay at their positions. I don't think it's going to mess up the chemistry at all. Jake's played a lot of different positions and Dallas has played both guard and tackle. We have guys that have played both positions so we should be able to move them around."
With John Beck nursing a leg injury of his own, there is a chance the senior quarterback might not be able to play during BYU's contest with Utah State. Beck's prognosis has been listed as "day to day" by Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall. If Beck cannot play, he has confidence that backup quarterback Jason Beck will get the job done.
"Jason's been around," said Beck. "He's a fifth-year senior and has been on this team for three years. The thing about Jason is he isn't the kind of guy who is just going to stand around on the sidelines. I'm always talking to him on the sidelines about what he sees and what I see. In practice we're always talking and maybe Jason's game experience isn't a lot, but he did play JC ball, and he's been involved in scrimmages at practices. He is a seasoned guy and I feel like that if it comes down to Jason playing on Saturday, I have no question that he's going to go out there and do well. He's shown in practice that he can do well, and I think the team believes in him and that if he's out there we'll be fine."
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