Utah State not a 'make-or-break' game for BYU

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LOGAN -- Coach Bronco Mendenhall probably didn't expect to start the 2010 season 1-3, but he apparently isn't too worried about his Cougars or their matchup with Utah State (1-3) Friday night.

"(This) is not a make-or-break game, nor are any games this season. It's the next chance to improve, it's the next chance to measure; it's the next chance to develop. Certainly a win is what we're shooting for and what we will prepare for, but I have said all along that I think this is going to be a longer process than what many would like it to be, but I think the direction is the right direction," Mendenhall said in his weekly press conference Monday.

The game marks the 80th meeting between BYU and Utah State. The Cougars and the Aggies are both struggling to find themselves, with BYU coming off of three straight losses and USU following two.

Despite Mendenhall's assertions, Friday night's game in Logan could be a turning point -- or it could just be another night full of growing pains.

I think this is going to be a longer process than what many would like it to be.

–Bronco Mendenhall

Before the season began, BYU linebacker Austin Jorgensen didn't put much value on the game with the Aggies. Now he believes it's crucial for the rest of the season.

"Playing Utah State, it hasn't been a big deal for me in the past, but this week it is definitely huge for us to go up there and get a win because I think it is a turning point for us for the season," Jorgensen said.

Four weeks in and a handful of players down, it certainly seems as though BYU will be a work in progress for the foreseeable future. Losing Riley Nelson and Romney Fuga to season-ending injuries has forced that adjustments be made on both sides of the ball, and how successful or unsuccessful those necessary changes will be remains to be seen.

Traveling to the home of an in-state competitor in an attempt to tack another W on the schedule is certainly an opportunity for development for recently-dubbed starting quarterback Jake Heaps. The true freshman went 24-of-45 for 229 yards in his first start for the Cougars last week in their loss to Nevada (27-13), but was unable to find any blue in end zone through four quarters.

The week prior at Florida State, while still splitting time in the pocket with Nelson, Heaps went 15-of-31 for just 114 yards and one touchdown, and was sacked six times by Florida State's defense in a 34-10 loss for the Cougars.

Mendenhall said he's impressed with the progress Heaps has made and that he's looking forward to further improvement not only from his offense, but his defense as well.

From this past game I saw a number of things that were improving.

–Bronco Mendenhall

"From this past game I saw a number of things that were improving. I think our pass game did improve, especially over the past two weeks. I think our special teams continue to be solid, especially the cover units and how we're kicking the football. I think especially in the second half (against Nevada), our run defense and the way we defended a pretty difficult scheme showed improvement," Mendenhall said.

A tough Nevada team under the direction of newly-appointed coach Chris Ault posed some difficulties for BYU last week, but the biggest struggle of the night came as Fuga was taken down by an illegal block, tearing the ACL and LCL in his left knee. The loss could prove to be costly for BYU as the Cougars make another major shift against a team who's just as hungry for a win as they are.

The Aggies are also dragging around a heavy 1-3 mark, dropping games to then-No. 7 Oklahoma (31-24), Fresno State (41-24), and San Diego State (41-7) in weeks one, three and four. Week two saw their only win so far this season as they claimed their first home game of the season over Idaho State (38-17).

Coach Gary Andersen was unavailable for Monday's press conference after suffering a neck injury at his home, but is expected to be on the sidelines Friday.


Story compiled with contributions from Liz Frome and Rod Zundel.

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