The "Quest for Perfection" is the goal in Provo this year as the BYU Cougars are primed to make a run at an undefeated season and a BCS Bowl game. Bronco Mendenhall is a name to remember because his name is going to come up next time Washington hires a new football coach.
In 2003 Mendenhall accepted the job to serve as defensive coordinator at Brigham Young University under then-head coach Gary Crowton. After three straight losing seasons, Crowton resigned. After a windmill of events, including the job being offered to former Cougar linebacker and current Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham the Cougars ended up settling on Mendenhall.
In 2005, his first year at the helm, the Cougars finished the regular season with a 6-5 record. They appeared in the Las Vegas Bowl, their first bowl game since 2001, falling to Cal 35-28.
In 2006 Mendenhall altered the 3-3-5 defense he brought from New Mexico, changing to a more conservative 3-4-4 in order to take advantage of BYU's traditional strength at linebacker and to minimize the traditional lack of depth at defensive back. This change resulted in the top-ranked scoring defense in the Mountain West Conference and one of the top scoring defenses in the nation.
Mendenhall also coached the Cougars to their first victory in five years over arch rival, the University of Utah. The team finished the regular season with a record of 10-2 and were ranked in the top 25 of the AP and Coaches polls as well as the BCS standings. The Cougars faced Oregon in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl on December 21, pitting Mendenhall against Crowton, who then was the offensive coordinator at Oregon. BYU won easily, 38-8.
In 2007 After avenging a loss in 2006 to Arizona, BYU stumbled out of the gate losing two close games to UCLA and Tulsa, both on the road. BYU then ran the MWC table going 8-0 to win their second straight outright MWC Championship. BYU accepted an invite to the Las Vegas Bowl against UCLA. BYU won the game on the final play when BYU's Eathyn Manumaleuna blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt. BYU's final rankings were 14 in both the AP and USA Today polls with an 11-2 record.
Washington recently seems to be scheduling all the top mid majors at the wrong time. Over the last couple of years they have scheduled the likes of Fresno State, Boise State, Hawaii, and now BYU. Each of those teams have come into the Washington contest harboring legit BCS aspirations.
The BYU offense is led by Max Hall who had a good debut season as the starting quarterback for the Cougars, throwing for 3,848 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. If he makes the progress that many signal callers make heading into their second year running the show, the BYU offense will be very hard to stop.
Receiver Austin Collie returned from his mission last year and immediately became Hall’s favorite target. This year should be even better for Collie, but Hall will have plenty of other options. Tight end Dennis Pitta is a superb pass catcher and a nice target in the redzone and Luke Ashworth and Spencer Hafoka both had great springs after coming back from their missions and should compliment Collie at the wideout spots quite well.
On defense replacing a majority of the secondary and a few starting linebackers is tops on the list of things to do for BYU. Corners Brandon Howard and Scott Johnson have some experience, but can they help the Cougar’s play with the likes of UW, and UCLA?
Making matters more disheartening is the loss of linebackers Kelly Poppinga, Bryan Kehl and Markell Staffieri. Those will not be easy guys to replace and that will put a lot of pressure on some inexperienced players. Former tight end Vic So’oto might find himself in a starting role and Matt Bauman has to prove that he is ready for a full time starting position.
While the back eight has some issues that need addressed, the defense has its leader with Jan Jorgensen. As a sophomore, Jorgensen tallied 14 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. As an upperclassman, and one of the more experienced players on the team, he will be asked to be a leader as well as a sack machine. And as long as the front line can get pressure, the secondary will have some time to adjust.
If BYU is going to beat Pac Ten teams and make a run at a BCS bowl they are going to have to fill in the holes on defense.
How do you beat BYU?
You utilize Jake Locker to give an inexperienced defense fits all night. The Cougars haven't seen anything like Jake, and they are going to have a lot of problems with him. Washington should also be able to run the ball on these guys and take up some time of possession. The BYU offense is explosive, but if you keep the ball out of their hands and kill them with long drives you are going to win this game at home.
What do I think?
This is a winnable game, in fact it is a must win game if this team is going to do anything this season. I think Locker will have his way with the BYU defense and UW will win a high scoring game. The BYU offense can put some points up in a hurry so it will be a good test for our young defensive backfield. My opinion has always been that Pac Ten teams should beat MWC, and WAC teams, especially at home. Mark this as a "W" for Washington.