PROVO — No. 18 BYU knows that with an undefeated record, every time it steps on the field is crucial, and that is evident in the way it treated the bye week and practice on Monday morning.
“Was it a bye week?” asked running back Jamaal Williams. “It felt like we were still getting ready for another game. They kept us with the mindset of not being lazy or thinking this is a time off to relax. It was the opposite.”
That is exactly what head coach Bronco Mendenhall wants. He said this bye week was much different from others, that this team has the depth and the hunger to remain physical and demanding on the practice field.
“This team seems to want that, can handle it.” said Mendenhall. “It allows us to move our program ahead farther faster than if were limited in practice days, and past bye weeks have just been trying to stall and do little contact and do cerebral work.”
Mendenhall also said the physical and focused attitude continued into practice Monday morning, which was less sluggish than most first days back after a bye week. The team may have some extra motivation with its only in-state game of the year this week against Utah State. The Cougars have dominated the series with Utah State since 1980, losing only three times.
The Aggies have been a quality opponent the last few years, but are now struggling in part because of injuries plaguing star quarterback Chuckie Keeton, including surgery on his ACL. Monday, Mendenhall praised Keeton, his creativity, athleticism and leadership. Keeton is day to day, but Mendenhall noted if you’re prepared for Keeton you’re prepared for anything.
Regardless of record or injuries, Utah State always has a chip on its shoulder when it comes to playing BYU, and the Cougars are not taking the historic matchup lightly.
“It’s a huge game.” Mendenhall said. “It means a lot, these two teams honor tradition, and this particular game matters a lot to both teams.
Players understand the history and the in-state elements but they aren’t focusing in on Utah State as a marquee rivalry game. Skye PoVey is a northern Utah native but has his eye on the bigger picture. He was asked if this game has special meaning.
“No, not really. Nothing to take away from them. Every game is fun, football is a special sport. You only play what, 13 games? Every game is special, every game is a big game, it's a playoff game. But I think we go into every game with that excitement.”
Jamaal Williams felt similar when asked about the game as a rivalry.
“Rivalry game? Not that much. It's just an in-state game to us. Just another opportunity to get better.”
The Cougars and Aggies will face off at 8:15 Friday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
On defense, BYU is allowing too many points, and there has been a special focus on playing the ball. PoVey and Mendenhall both mentioned that as a point of emphasis during the bye.
On injuries, Mendenhall said Bronson Kaufusi and Algernon Brown look significantly better. Nick Kurtz practiced in full pads with full participation for the first time Monday. Mitchell Marshall 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.