PROVO — Before the season it looked as though BYU would have a chance for a fast start with its first three games at home.

The Cougars won only one of those games.

They hope to fare better away from Provo as they prepare to go on the road for the first time this season.

"It's just the next challenge," coach Bronco Mendenhall said.

BYU plays the first of back-to-back Mountain West Conference road games on Saturday (8 p.m., Ch. 5) at San Diego State. The following week, it travels to New Mexico.

But first, the Cougars will have to get Saturday's devastating 51-50 overtime loss to TCU out of their system.

BYU (1-2, 0-1) blew an 18-point second-half lead and watched the Horned Frogs leave town with a victory in a game that lasted nearly five hours and saw the two teams combine for 101 points and 1,089 yards of total offense.

It marked BYU's first-ever overtime defeat. The Cougars had been 5-0 in OT situations since overtime was implemented in 1996.

Mendenhall is confident his team will come back strong.

"I've never doubted their work habits or their willingness," he said of his players. "I don't do it now. I think they'll come back first thing Monday morning and they'll be anxious to see the mistakes they made, prepare for our next conference opponent and move forward."

The Cougars say their goals are still attainable, despite the 1-2 start.

"I told (the team) that if this game changes their opinion of the outcome of the season and what our goals are and if they're achievable, I think it works in our favor, still," Mendenhall said. "There's a lot of momentum I think we generated."

"We can still win a conference championship," running back Curtis Brown said. "We can still go to a bowl game. There are still goals on this team that can be accomplished. That's the attitude . . . to move forward and accomplish what we can."

The Cougars say they're determined to improve.

"From an offensive standpoint, we can never be satisfied. Especially after a loss," said quarterback John Beck, who passed for a career-high 517 yards and five touchdowns. "I'm not the type of person who's going to sit back and say, 'Oh, well, the offense had a pretty good game.' No. Winning's the main thing. It doesn't matter how many yards you rack up or how many points. It's about winning.

"Adversity really builds character," Beck continued. "I know that's one thing this team has. This team has character. I can't stand losing. It was tough to walk off that football field, but now, what's done is done. Right now, it's all about San Diego State. We've played well down in San Diego. We expect to come out and do even better than what we did today offensively. I know I can play better, and I believe each guy on my team can find ways to play better."

Brown did his part helping the offense explode for 50 points, rushing for 85 yards and a touchdown while catching eight passes for 92 yards.

"Our job as an offense is to get better each and every week, take no steps back and don't idle," Brown said. "The offense came out and played hard, but obviously it wasn't good enough to get us a win. We have San Diego State next week and we're going to continue to take a step forward. As a team captain and as a teammate, I'm not going to let this team go backwards. Our job is to move forward. We have a loss, we're 1-2. Hey, we still have seven conference games left. Let's go out there and win the rest."

To do that, the Cougars will need to shore up, and heal up, their defense, which allowed 28 points after halftime. BYU was without four starters for much of the game.

"We need to make more plays, especially on the defensive side at the end of the game," Mendenhall said. "Our execution in critical moments has to be better."


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com