Cougars Ready This Time Around

Last year BYU was taken to the woodshed against the Horned Frogs. Both the offense and defense struggled - the offense especially. It was a stark contrast to the rest of the games played that year. The anomaly that was the Cougars' offensive performance against TCU had happened the year prior to that, and what is of note is how the offense responded the following year.

Rewind to the Las Vegas Bowl in 2007, which had the high-flying Cougars taking on the struggling UCLA Bruins. It was a game that saw UCLA cut down BYU's offensive production by almost 200 yards below their average and limit them to just 17 points. BYU had averaged 30.1 points that season.

It bothered the Cougar coaching staff, believe me. A chief focus following the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl was how exactly the UCLA Bruin defense was able to stymie the Cougar offense and how they'd fix it so it wouldn't happen again.

They adjusted to the tune of a 59-0 beatdown of the Bruins the following season.

Too often fans take Bronco Mendenhall's message of consistency and internal focus the wrong way. While he hasn't put on any purple Horned Frog uniforms on the team's tackling dummies this week during practices, the notion that he and his staff haven't prepared specifically and intently for this game isn't a correct one.

What BYU did offensively against TCU last year didn't work, much like the issues the Cougar offense had against UCLA the prior year. But the offensive woes against the Bruins were fixed, showing that Cougar coaches aren't satisfied with the status quo they've established. They're constantly working to get better, learning from their mistakes and doing everything in their power to put the best product on the field game-in and game-out.

They're as intent as the most ardent fan in their collective desire to consistently improve their program and take it to new levels. Too often Mendenhall's message of consistency is misinterpreted to mean he's satisfied with where the program is at, when the real message is that consistency is the very vehicle he has used to take the BYU football team to new heights and will continue to do so as long as he heads the program.

"It's something that I remember, our coaches and that our players will remember," said Mendenhall when asked about how he took the TCU game last season. "I remember the losses much more than the wins mostly because they hurt more and that you learn more. I remember those feelings and just watching our team not perform well while realizing that I hadn't prepared them to perform well. Those are always hard feelings to handle."

Indeed, one can readily assume just based off of those comments that Mendenhall has taken to heart what went wrong against TCU, as it's bothered him likely from the time that specific game ended up until the moment they try to redeem themselves this Saturday.

So what will happen? Given the similar landscape to what UCLA presented last season, can fans readily expect the same outcome or something similar to it?

Hardly would be the short answer. While the Cougars faced a very talented UCLA team last season, it was a team struggling to find an identity while missing a lot of the starters that so effectively performed against BYU during the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl.

TCU, meanwhile, has an established system in place with a lot of returning players who know how to execute that system on both sides of the football. They're also a team that has learned how to prepare and get up specifically for BYU while exploiting potential weak areas of BYU's offensive and defensive systems. In short, they'll present a much stiffer challenge come Saturday that UCLA did a year ago.

"They're the most talented team we'll face since Oklahoma," said senior linebacker Terrance Hooks. "When watching them it's amazing how fast they are, but they're also well coached. They're right there with Oklahoma or anyone else in the country athletically, but we know that, they always are. They're always going to be tough, we just need to do what we know we can do to counter that and beat them."

So how does one counter that? A lot of sentiment on the message boards has surrounded a notion that BYU simply cannot compete with the speed and athleticism both TCU and Utah presented last year. So did TCU just get fast and athletic last season or were there other things that BYU was unable to withstand?

"Our schemes are right and our mindset is right this time around," said quarterback Max Hall about facing TCU. "Last year I don't think either of those things were right or a lot of it wasn't, and you saw the result. With spreading the ball around and giving a bunch of different looks, it's going to help us out this time."

Contrary to popular belief, BYU can and has been able to compete very effectively against TCU's speed and athleticism to the tune of two straight victories prior to last year's game. TCU changed some things up last year, and now comes BYU's turn to answer in kind.

Make no mistake about the fact that the Cougars know what ailed them last season against TCU, or about the fact that a lot of the offseason preparation has indeed focused on not allowing a similar outcome to occur. It is much like they did against UCLA a season ago.

"I wish I could predict at a higher level," said Mendenhall when asked about what has changed going into Saturday's matchup. "I think we'll find out Saturday if anything has changed, but again, it's two different teams now. The coaches and the systems are the same, but teams change on a year-by-year basis, so I'm not even sure after we play this Saturday. Each team has a different set of personnel and chemistry and identity on a year-by-year basis. If you‘re looking at styles of play, those are very similar to which they have been for the past four meetings, and those games have been split two-to-two."

While no one knows if the changes BYU has made will result in a better outcome, history would indicate that Cougar coaches are aware and capable of implementing changes resulting in a better outcome. Given the landscape, the mindset, the existing talent and the changes, I like BYU's chances come Saturday.

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