"I'll stay with the cap that's been worn the last two weeks," Mendenhall said in wearing it in wins over Colorado State and New Mexico. "I feel more comfortable and it seems to be working."
Mendenhall leads his 3-3 BYU team into Notre Dame Stadium looking for a landmark victory in his first year as coach of the Cougars. Mendenhall become BYU's 14th head coach last December after serving as the team's defensive coordinator the past two seasons. Being a defensive coach that he is, Mendenhall will be challenged this week against Charlie Weis and the Notre Dame offense. As Irish opponents know, Weis is a tough man to game plan against because the formations and plays differ from one game to another.
"They're not similar week to week," Mendenhall said. "The core plays are the same but the formations in which they're run from and the emphasis changes based on what scheme you use. For instance, against USC, in the first five or six plays there were formations that hadn't been exposed to this point in the season. They were similar plays but out of different formations, so the masking or the presentation appears differently. In many instances that forces a defense to be on their heels as they match up and adjust to things that are a little bit uncertain to them.
"I think, in general, the play calling week to week reflects that to where you don't see the exact same plan, the same formation or the same emphasis from what you saw the previous week. How that reflects on our preparation is you have to possibly predict what the plan will be of the things you've seen, and then what else might be in store, and not necessarily prepare for all the looks that have been exposed the previous weeks because it's not relevant."
BYU has put up some impressive passing numbers this season. Quarterback John Beck is averaging 317 yards per game through the air, has thrown for 12 touchdowns and is 11th in the nation in total offense. Deep threat wide receiver Todd Watkins has caught five touchdowns and the Cougars like to spread the ball around as evidenced by five players having 20 or more receptions on the year. In last year's upset win over Notre Dame, BYU used the long ball to great success. Allowing big plays is the Achilles heal of this year's Irish defense.
Last week, though, the Cougars showed they aren't all about the pass. BYU ran it 52 times for 274 yards and controlled the time of possession in their 24-14 win over Colorado State. This ability to be multi-dimensional presents another problem to the Notre Dame defense although the Rams rank 103rd in rushing defense. BYU might have to use the same formula to upset the Irish this week. One problem: Notre Dame has won the time of possession battle in every game of 2005.
"Ball control and possession time reflects control of the football game," Mendenhall said. "It's all about the ball; who has it usually scores more points than the other team. By having it longer you have a chance to do that, and scoring points is the best indicator of whether we win or not. The other night, clearly when we decided to run the football and could, the last drive took up the seven minutes. There's nothing more frustrating than knowing that you want the ball back, need it back and can't get it back. I think Notre Dame is doing a good job of that as well.
"As has been well documented by statistics, if you rush for more than 100 yards our chance of winning goes up. In this offense that's still a relevant statistic, however the running backs get the ball. I think what Saturday showed more than anything is how capable our running backs are. Does that mean we're not going to throw the ball as we have? No. Does it mean that we're going to make any less emphasis on the throwing the football? No. But certainly a hair more balanced than maybe what we have been doing."
The match up could give Mendenhall that huge win to put BYU back on the map. They'll have to do it in one of college football's most historic environments. Mendenhall is trying to drill into his players that this game is just like all the others and no different.
"Our team is very competitive as it stands now, regardless of where we play," Weis said. "We could go to the intramural field and line up and play. Certainly their program is one of the best in the country right now. But our focus is still on us, regardless of whether it's Eastern Illinois, Notre Dame, New Mexico, Colorado State. Our focus is on our program and improving, and the competitive nature of our team will come forth no matter where we're playing."