PROVO — Coming off yet another disappointing defensive performance in a loss to Boise State last Friday, the Cougar defense knows all eyes are upon them this Saturday as BYU travel to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to take on the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (5-3, 4-1 C-USA).
The Cougars also have seen their points-allowed-per-game average shoot up from 18.75 through the first four games to 40.75. While the losses and daunting defensive statistics may have the fans' moods down, the desire to play better and improve is still very evident in the BYU locker room.
“From the outside it might seem to some that the season is over, that these last games don’t mean anything, but to us they do,” said junior defensive captain Remington Peck. “We feel we can still have a positive season and end on a good note.”
PROVO — From an exciting 4-0 start, to a four game losing streak, this BYU team has seen a full range of emotions this season. The Cougars are coming off a devastating 25-point loss to Boise State, but there was an overwhelming feeling of unity and high expectations at Monday’s practice.
“Of course we’re a little disappointed, I mean, it’s been four games,” senior wide receiver Jordan Leslie said. “But, we’re coming in with a strong, competitive mindset. We need to prove something. We need to come out and play strong.”
The Cougars put up more than 300 yards of total offense on Friday, but allowed their opponent to reach more than 600 yards for the first time under head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
BYU was picked second to perennial West Coast Conference power Gonzaga in preseason coaches' balloting unveiled Monday at the league's annual Basketball Tipoff/Media Day event in Los Angeles. BYU guards Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth were also named to the preseason All-WCC squad.
Gonzaga received nine of ten first-place votes in order-of-finish polling, with BYU receiving the other top-spot nod. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own teams or own players.
PROVO — This week BYU sets out to accomplish something only four teams have done in the last 14 years: win a football game on the “smurf turf” of Boise State. The Broncos are 88-4 on their home field since 2000, and in Wednesday's radio broadcast of "BYU Football with Bronco Mendenhall," the head coach echoed his weeklong message that execution is the key to a competitive game Friday night.
The defense has taken a lot of the criticism this season, allowing 387.6 yards per game (the most since 2005). Coach Mendenhall says a lot of the defense’s struggles come down to inexperience and young players who haven’t yet mastered the art of assignment-sound football.
Mendenhall said he saw “giant” improvement in the secondary last week, and that he was encouraged by what he saw in the film room.
PROVO — With less than half of the 2014 season remaining and currently on a three-game losing skid, the BYU Cougars are ready to move on from the past and focus on this week’s opponent, Boise State.
Entering a short week with the game being on Friday night, the players and coaches clearly recognize there is no time to dwell on the disappointments and lack of execution that has plagued both sides of the ball the last three weeks, but instead the work must come in fixing the problems as they move forward.
“Streaks of winning or losing, all we focus on is one week at a time and try to look out the front of the windshield, not the back rearview mirror,” explained offensive coordinator Robert Anae Tuesday morning.
PROVO — After a third straight loss, head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his young team say they know the primary issue holding this team from wins. After practice Monday morning, the theme was assignment-sound football.
“The main thing for our team to take another step forward, I think just discipline and execution are the two words that would really be helpful.” Mendenhall said.
Mendenhall said the team is very close to making those plays that win games, but admitted he underestimated the youth and inexperience of the team and on defense that contributes greatly to the lack of execution.
PROVO — BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall used his Wednesday night show to express disappointment with his team's most recent loss, but also to pull positives from the Cougars' 31-24 overtime setback at UCF.
The margin between victory and defeat is always narrow in extra time, but Mendenhall said if the team executes all night they don’t have to dwell on a single play, or put the game in anybody else’s hands.
Case in point: BYU's final offensive play of overtime, in which an apparent fourth-down pass interference call was missed by the officiating crew. In the days that followed, the officiating supervisor in charge of reviewing questionable calls acknowledged that the field officials missed the play.
PROVO — No team ever wants to replace a starting quarterback midway through the year, but that’s the hand the BYU has been dealt.
Now after two straight losses, the Cougars face the back half of what many thought could have been an undefeated season, and they are having to redefine who they are and what could still make this season special.
“We’re gonna go 10-2 and win the bowl game. I mean, that’s still a great season,” senior wide receiver Jordan Leslie said. “A lot of people expected us to go undefeated and they kind of see it as a letdown, but we’re trying to win every game, and 10-2 is a great record at any other school and it should be a great record here.”
PROVO — After suffering two straight losses, BYU seeks to get back on the winning track verse the Nevada Wolf Pack and their dual-threat quarterback senior Cody Fajardo.
The defense, which gave up 21 straight points to UCF in BYU’s 31-24 overtime loss last week, has had a lot of up-and-down moments this season through its first six games after coming into the season with high expectations.
“I think that as a defense we’re underachieving a little bit but that comes with just the little lack of experience,” said BYU linebacker coach Kelly Poppinga. “We’ve got to continue to work on our fundamentals, our execution, and we’ve got to make plays."
PROVO — It was a short week, injuries ran rampant, the game was on the East Coast, Jordan Leslie was held; if BYU wants excuses for losing to UCF, it has them. However, in the end, the Cougars had a 14-point lead in the second half. The question is who are these Cougars? Now that the ranking and national spotlight are gone, is BYU focused on settling for progress or winning? The tone during media interviews on Monday morning was somber optimism. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall pointed out what he saw from his team in BYU's second consecutive loss.
“Our team tried really hard,” Mendenhall said. “They played with a lot of grit and determination and heart. Christian Stewart really came along nicely, so a lot of positives, I think.”
Mendenhall said he was encouraged with young players and the better play of the defense, but he is disappointed the team didn’t win.