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PROVO — The BYU Cougars are back in action this week as they say goodbye to the bye week and hello to the Utah State Aggies. At Wednesday night’s broadacast of 'BYU Football with Bronco Mendenhall,' the coach pointed out that Friday’s game will be the only in-state matchup in Utah this season, which sets the stakes a little higher than usual.
“I actually would consider the winner of this game, this year, the state champion because these are the only two teams participating,” Mendenhall said.
Utah State announced Wednesday night that senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton will not play in Friday’s game and may be out for the rest of the season. Mendenhall didn’t discuss how his absence would specifically affect the game, but rather wished Keeton the best
“I just want Chuckie to finish in a manner that is reflective of how he can really play and how he can really lead,” Mendenhall said. “Utah State will miss him … certainly this game will miss his presence, but he’ll have another year, so hopefully his final year will be reflective of what he can do. I think a lot of who he is and how he plays.”
Both BYU and Utah State come into Friday’s matchup fresh off bye weeks. For BYU, the bye week meant an extra week to recover and rest players who have struggled with injuries early this season.
Mendenhall confirmed that Bronson Kaufusi, Algernon Brown and Nick Kurtz have all recovered from their respective injuries and will all see the field on Friday. Kurtz (broken foot) has yet to see playing time as a Cougar, but Mendenhall said the junior-college transfer was the most dynamic player coming out of fall camp this season, and the coach is excited to see how his return will benefit the offense.
“I wouldn’t expect him to be perfect on the first day back, he’s only practiced a couple days, but now you have the chance to have Jordan Leslie, Devon Blackmon and Nick Kurtz who can be rotated through,” Mendenhall said. “Then you have a chance, no matter what quarter it is, to have fresh playmakers on the field at the same time."
Friday will also mark a historic event at LaVell Edwards Stadium as BYU inducts former BYU quarterback Jim McMahon into the BYU Hall of Fame and retires his jersey number. McMahon recently finished his degree at BYU, making him eligible for the Hall of Fame, something fans have been anxious to see for a while.
“It is a big deal for BYU football, but also for Jim McMahon,” Mendenhall said. “Jim is a great leader in our program, had so many successes … and has had serious life challenges along the way, and just continues to battle and represent a lot of really good things, and so that’s what I see in him. A lot of good things.”
This week’s Firehouse Subs' “Fire Starter of the Game” was senior punter Scott Arellano, who averaged 55.5 yards per punt on five attempts against Virginia and pinned four inside the 20-yard line.
Arellano started out by setting the record straight on the correct pronunciation of his name (are-LAWN-oh) after which Mendenhall publicly apologized for pronouncing it incorrectly throughout Arellano's first season and a half at BYU. Arellano acknowledged that he wasn't quite sure how he to go about correcting the head coach.
As far as what happens on the field, Arellano said when he feels pressure come, he often is able to kick thing into high gear and get the ball to travel farther.
“I do sometimes have the mentality where if they want to block it, I’m gonna make ‘em hurt for it, so I try to hit it maybe as hard as I can,” he said.
Arellano is fourth nationally in punting average this season, and BYU leads the nation in net punting.
“Quick hits” from the weekly audience Q-and-A segment:
Mendenhall addressed a slight drop in paid attendance this season and whether or not it may relate to higher ticket prices.
“Really the only influence I have is to really work hard to have a team that plays worth someone’s time to come watch … and create a memory that’s hard to put a monetary number on,” he said.
Mendenhall also said he hopes that as the team continues to win that attendance numbers will return to the sold-out crowds BYU has had in the past.
In regards to scheduling, Mendenhall said that there are exciting games in BYU’s future but that the biggest obstacle right now is finding good teams to come to Provo later in the season.
He said he would like to see home, home and neutral series with other opponents that would allow BYU to face better opponents later in the season and also give the Cougars the opportunity to play in a variety of different venues. Sydney Carlson is a KSL sports radio intern. You can follow her on Twitter @sydneykayc