Can BYU Win on a Prime-Time Stage?




The 2011 football season has certainly been a roller coaster season thus far.  Every week, BYU fans have absolutely no idea which BYU team will show up on game day.  Although at the end of the day, you cant argue with a victory—no matter how it was accomplished.  However, the anticipation going into this week’s matchup against TCU feels different from previous weeks so far this season.  There is evidence of confidence and energy in our new offense that the Cougars lacked during the first half of the season.  The only question is, has BYU’s new offense been tested yet?
That test will take place this Friday night.

Since entering the game in the 3rd quarter against Utah State back on October 7th, Riley Nelson has provided a missing spark to the BYU offense and engineered victories over the Aggies, San Jose State, Oregon State, and Idaho State.  In those four games, Nelson has shown gradual improvement in his performance each week.  The offense has also found a running game with breakthrough performances from sophomore Michael Alisa.  While the past four victories have been enjoyable, exciting, and relieving to myself as a die-hard fan, I have also had the realization that those four victories came against less than mediocre opponents.  Our offense still has yet to be tested, especially on a national prime-time stage against a quality opponent in TCU.
On Friday night, BYU will take their exam against TCU in front of a national television audience on ESPN.  The game will be played in Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas—a venue that most coaches and players have considered “The Eighth Wonder of the World”.  BYU is no stranger to this stadium.  In 2009, the Cougars debuted the brand new venue and shocked the nation by defeating the highly favored and third ranked Oklahoma Sooners, a team that played in the BCS National Title game a year before led by Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.  BYU knocked Bradford out of the game and sent the Sooners out of the building with a 14-13 upset defeat.  Can we expect the same performance out of the Cougars on Friday night against the Horned Frogs?
Looking back at recent years under the tenure of head coach Bronco Mendenhall, BYU has won only a handful of games against quality opponents on a “prime-time” stage.  Besides the 2009 Oklahoma upset, the first game that comes to mind is the 2006 TCU game in Fort Worth where the Cougars dominated the Frogs and left Amon Carter Stadium with a 31-17 victory.  That could arguably be Bronco Mendenhall’s biggest victory of his career.  To go on the road against a TCU team ranked #17 and to win the game by two touchdowns is quite an accomplishment for Bronco and the Cougars. 

TCU ended up finishing that year with an 11-2 record including a Poinsettia Bowl victory.  To that point in Bronco’s career and for Cougar football, that was the first big time road game against a ranked opponent that BYU had won since the LaVell Edwards days.  I remember being in shock when I found out BYU had won.  I was serving a mission in Sacramento during the 2006 season so I was unable to watch the game.  However, I remember late that night sneaking into the bathroom and calling “1-800-TellMe” to find out the score.  I went to bed that night thinking to myself that BYU football was back.  That was the first real proof that BYU was able to go into an opposing stadium and beat a ranked team.  To me, that was real evidence.  I didn’t need to question our team’s confidence and potential after that victory.
How does BYU prepare for TCU this weekend?  Preparation will be a key in who wins the game on Friday night.  For the past three seasons, TCU head coach Gary Patterson wins the trophy for having the more prepared team.  In fact, Coach Patterson may be one of the best coaches in the country at preparing his teams to play on a “prime-time” stage.  There were rumors that before the 2009 Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon State, Bronco Mendenhall made a phone call to Coach Patterson asking advice on how to prepare his teams to play well in bowl games.  Whatever advice Coach Patterson gave to Bronco, it worked.  BYU dominated the Beavers in a 44-20 rout.  After TCU’s 69-0 drubbing of New Mexico last Saturday, Coach Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “I won’t watch this [New Mexico film] much at all,” noting that BYU’s defense “is a whole lot better” than New Mexico’s. “I am taking my laptop home, and I’ll have BYU on by 6:30.”
The past three meetings against TCU have been lopsided victories for the Horned Frogs.  After back-to-back wins against the Frogs in 2006 & 2007, the Cougars have not been able to find a way to even compete against them.  Even when we expected and prepared all week for the outside blitz, the Cougars still could not find a way to move the ball down the field and score more than once against Gary Patterson’s aggressive defense.  I fully believe that if you prepare right, with a focused mind and the proper mentality, you can defeat any team on any given stage.  I will admit that TCU proved to be the better and more physical team the last three meetings, however, I feel BYU had the talent and personnel to compete with them during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.  In my opinion, the lack of preparation and in-game coaching adjustments has been a large factor in our losses to TCU.  Last year in 2010, BYU surprised everyone by shutting down TCU’s offense for most of the game.  Due to the lack of experience of our offense and some late defensive mistakes, the Frogs were able to control the game and win 31-3.  BYU is a much-improved team in 2011, while TCU has graduated most of their starters from last year, which proves that Friday night should be a very interesting rematch for these two teams.
It is very hard for me to predict the outcome of the game this Friday night.  Has BYU’s defense been tested by an opposing offense this year?  Will Bronco Mendenhall be able to mentally prepare his defense to shut down and control TCU quarterback Casey Pachall?  Will Riley Nelson continue his consistent performance and be able to make the plays required to score points on TCU’s aggressive defense?  These questions will keep me up every night this week.  I believe that these two teams are both evenly matched.  It will come down to who is better prepared.  I have no doubt that Gary Patterson will be in the film room all week creating a game plan to secure a fourth straight victory over Bronco Mendenhall and the Cougars.  My only hope is that Bronco and his staff will be doing everything they can to prevent that from happening. hosts a weekly podcast on Mondays and Thursdays.  Subscribe to the Cougar Center Podcast via iTunes.  Search “Cougar Center” at the iTunes Store and it will send you directly to the Podcast.  Leave a rating or a comment while you’re there