PROVO — It's been a long, long time — 37 years, in fact — since BYU's football team has struggled like this to start a season.
On Saturday, one day after the Cougars fell to 1-4 with a 31-16 setback at Utah State, coach Bronco Mendenhall took drastic measures — firing defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jaime Hill.
BYU's defense allowed 434 yards to the Aggies, including 242 yards rushing.
Even during the three straight losing seasons under then-coach Gary Crowton, the Cougars didn't begin in such dismal fashion. BYU finds itself with an abysmal 1-4 record for the first time since 1973. That year, the Cougars, under second-year coach LaVell Edwards, started 1-5 before finishing with a 5-6 record.
This marks the first time since 1993 a Cougar team has dropped four straight games.
"There's nothing more to say than that. It's frustrating," senior cornerback Brandon Bradley said after Friday's loss. "Any loss for any competitor is frustrating. Whether it be four or one or a million, a loss is a loss. It's frustrating for anybody. But we're going to keep working."
This group of Cougars has never gone through a losing streak like this before.
"It's a first for me. Personally, I've never experienced anything like this," said wide receiver McKay Jacobson. "I'm sure it's the same for a lot of us. It's something that hasn't happened in a while here.
"All you can do is stay positive. If you say, 'Poor me,' you're not going to get anywhere. So we've got to be positive and we've got to get back to work."
When BYU hosts San Diego State (3-1) next Saturday, it will be trying to avoid losing its fifth straight game for the first time in 40 years.
More stark reality: The Cougars need to go 5-2 the rest of the way just to finish 6-6 and be bowl eligible. And two undefeated and nationally ranked teams — TCU and Utah — still loom on the schedule.
After posting four consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins, BYU has fallen fast. And fallen hard.
Asked if this is the low point of his six-year tenure in Provo, Mendenhall said, "Hard to say. In terms of losses, you have to say certainly. In terms of how the team will respond, that will determine how I feel about where this current team is."
Senior defensive lineman Vic So'oto, who was Mendenhall's first recruit back in 2005, has seen the program climb out of the ashes of three consecutive losing seasons to the glory of four 10-plus-win campaigns. And now, this.
So'oto suggested that BYU's young players don't appreciate what it takes to consistently win.
"My first year we went 6-5, then (lost a bowl game)," he said. "I don't think the guys know how much work was put in to have these string of four seasons go like they did. It's my fault, and our fault as seniors, for not bringing these young guys along and letting them know how it is to play BYU football the way we should play."
The veteran Cougar players need to take more of a leadership role, Jacobson said.
"We have enough guys on the team who have been here long enough," he said. "We've got to help out the young guys and we've got to go out there and make it happen."
So'oto vowed this team will not give up or quit.
"I don't think I've ever had more fun in any season than this season right now, even though we're 1-4," he said. "It's a bunch of guys that really want to play and contribute. But at the same time, you've got to be smart, you've got to be assignment-sound and you've got to be ready to play.
"We're not throwing in the towel. We'll be back on Monday, ready to go."
BYU announced Saturday that X-rays of safety Andrew Rich and Jordan Pendleton, who were injured in the Utah State game, were negative. They will undergo further medical evaluation. More about their status will be known Monday.
Dick Harmon contributed to this story
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