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PROVO — One year and two weeks ago on a rainy day in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Virginia Cavaliers beat BYU, 17-16, on Day One of the season, crushing the Cougars' anticipation for a great year.
BYU knows as an independent the only way to take advantage of a national stage and make noise is to win and keep winning. As the Cougars prepare to square off against Virginia Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium, once again they know this time is under much different circumstances and BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall relishes the opportunity.
“Really like that they're coming to Provo," he said. "I really like it this early in the season we have exposure already, we’re playing well and one more chance to show what our program is about.”
The high number of penalties has become a concern for BYU, but Mendenhall cautions that while the Cougars want smart play, they also want a physical style of play.
“Each week I think it becomes more and more evident, but I’m not going to promote that to the point where we’re not aggressive and playing really physical and really hard," he said. "So a fine line in there. There’ll be some emphasis on it but maybe not the landslide of emphasis that others are hoping for.”
BYU wide receiver Mitch Matthews knows physical play and emphasized not backing down from anyone and competing at a high level, including with his teammates. BYU fans have noticed a large receiving corps with new and old names, and this helps with the pace of the offense of BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, but also means each receiver must earn every snap.
“There’s guys gaining and losing their spots every week so you can’t take a practice off," Matthews said. "There’s a lot of competition, you can be replaced very easily... but more importantly we’re playing to beat Virginia.”
Matthews says Virginia had the best corners he played against in 2013 but they aren’t scared of anyone.
“Yeah, yeah for sure, the chip on your shoulder type week," he said. "They took it away from us last year and this is a special year for us and we’re gonna take it away from them.”
BYU defensive back Craig Bills may be the first player who comes to mind when it comes to physical play. He wants to continue to play fast and physical, but he has his eye on the bigger picture. He was asked about the news of moving up in the rankings.
“I think everyone is aware of it but I mean, just like we were talking about Louisville getting knocked off, it really doesn’t mean anything till the end of the season," he said.
BYU clearly has its eyes on continuing what Matthews called a “special year." The Cougars look to carry some attitude with them as they approach each game as a must win.
Last year a huge victory over Texas was dimmed because the Cougars had opened with a loss to Virginia. BYU knows all the national talk is one loss away from being silenced.
They Cougars already crushed Texas again look to redeem themselves against Virginia and make the Cavaliers a stepping stone toward national prominence and having the highest possible rank when it matters — in January. Mitchell is a KSL Sports Radio intern and Broadcast Journalism student at Brigham Young University where he anchors and produces sports. Find him @mitchellive on twitter.