Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
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Saying Utah State is "on the verge of breaking through as a program and as a team," BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall previewed this week's meeting with the Aggies during his weekly show on KSL Radio Wednesday night.
"They're a team that's scoring 41 points a game and rushing for over 300 yards a game," said Mendenhall. "It's already showing."
"They're going to have a very successful season, not just in future, but this season. It could end up being where every Friday night before (LDS General) Conference ends up being an epic battle."
You can listen to the entire broadcast by clicking on the "play" button in the "Cougar Cuts" box to the left.
Commenting on Utah State's narrow losses to Auburn in the season opener and then to Colorado State last Saturday, Mendenhall said "it was an amazing thing to watch. To have an onside kick go the way that it did (at Auburn), and for them to not be able to hold on to win that game, (then) the double-overtime loss with four turnovers (was a heartbreaker), when they really outplayed Colorado State. If you look at the statistics, they really controlled the game beginning to end, besides the turnovers."
"Utah State is being coached very well. I know Gary Anderson well, and he's a good coach. He's making the right choices for Utah State. He has the right kinds of schemes in place, and they're recruiting well. They're close to breaking out, emerging, and doing some positive things over there. Their performances (this season) have shown that, with the exception of not being able to finish a couple of games."
Speaking on what he has seen in film during preparation for this Friday's match-up, the coach continued: "They are excellent strategists and have great players...from an offensive perspective I see a lot of creativity: very unique formations, quarterback runs, empty formations, fly sweeps, a lot of gadgetry and trick plays, and a lot of running inside and outside by multiple players. Defensively you see a scheme very similar to what the University of Utah does."
Reflecting on his team's win over Central Florida in relation to the Utah loss less than a week prior, the coach acknowledged the high stakes early in the season, when a loss to UCF would have dropped BYU to 1-3.
"As a BYU football coach and player, the stakes are high all the time. I embrace that. We're expected to play at a championship level. That is what we're expected to do. And that's what we should do. So when we play below that or don't quite measure up, nobody feels it more than myself."
"We had a very difficult week to overcome (after the loss to Utah), which can't be underestimated. I was very impressed with the team's resiliency at practice. And in this community where BYU football is as large as it is, we really worked hard to overcome that. The fact that we were able to practice well and play well enough to win against a good football team, I'm very proud of the team for that."
As far as exposure goes with BYU's television partnership with ESPN, Mendenhall noted that "Three times as many people saw our game against Central Florida as saw the Utah game. For that many people to see our football program and our team succeed on a Friday night, it's is an amazing thing for what we're trying to accomplish. "
Speaking of where he wants to take his team in the long run, Mendenhall said that he sees "a team that holds onto the ball very well. I envision a team that maintains good field position, and does that above what their opponent has to show. Sometimes while the statistics are fun, the bottom line does come down to when you need to make a play at a critical time, can you make that play to help your team win the game? No matter how you get to that point, no matter what the game looks like to get to that point, in those moments, do you do that? The teams that can are the teams that every year sustain success."
Also joining us at the broadcast was Defensive Graduate Assistant Shaun Nua, who spoke of his history with Mendenhall at BYU. After his 2002 junior year in which he saw action in all twelve games as a defensive lineman, Nua was shocked when Mendenhall took over the Defensive Coordinator in 2003 and told him that he would be a "great member of the scout team."
Mendenhall told Nua's story: "I told Shaun he wouldn't see a down his senior year because he wouldn't try hard. And through his choices he learned to try hard. He tried so hard that he ended up starting for us a year later. He was an All-Conference player and was drafted by the National Champion (Pittsburgh Steelers)."
"When I asked the scouts why they took Shaun Nua, I'll never forget when they said it was his work ethic that impressed them. So he went from what I believed to be a weakness to what they believed to be a strength. Now you should see him coach our guys."
Mendenhall remembers that after he broke the news that Nua would not be a front-line player for him in 2003, "he was really disappointed. He then asked the question which is the critical question for all of us; he said ‘What do I have to do?' showing that he was humble, teachable, and willing to listen. If any of us truly, sincerely asks that, then you can make a change. That's the same stuff he's passing on to our players now."
We were also joined for the broadcast by current BYU TE Austin Holt, who leads the team in yards per reception this season. I encourage you to listen to Austin's segment (the third of the broadcast) by clicking on the "play" button in the "Cougar Cuts" box above. You'll hear about how he has risen above his coach's expectations and how he remains loyal to Bingham High School Miners.