BYU football: Aggie rematch will reveal much about Cougars' actual progress
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
PROVO — For BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall, it seems like ancient history.
But it was just one year ago that the Cougars fell at Utah State, 31-16, in Logan. It was a crushing blow for BYU, marking the Aggies' first victory in the series since 1993. It gave the Cougars their first four-game losing streak since 1993, and their first 1-4 start since 1973.
It was the program's nadir under Mendenhall. And it was also a catalyst for major changes. The day after the game, Mendenhall fired defensive coordinator Jaime Hill and took over the defense himself.
BYU went on to win six of its final eight games, and then, during the offseason, Mendenhall revamped the offensive coaching staff.
That's why losing to the Aggies is a distant memory for Mendenhall.
"So many changes and (the loss to USU) was a pivotal point in the program for some of the changes I did make," he said Monday. "But it almost seems like five years ago, rather than one year ago. … That seems like a long, long time ago, and not as relevant."
BYU and USU meet again Friday (6 p.m., MT, ESPN). This time, the game will be played in Provo, where the Aggies haven't won since 1978.
Cougar linebacker Jameson Frazier didn't play last year in Logan due to a thumb injury, but he acknowledged that it was a stinging defeat.
"I had never been part of a team that had strung together so many losses, and then lose to Utah State," Frazier said. "It was really the low point of last year. … I think after that game, it was really rock-bottom."
In that humiliating setback, quarterback Jake Heaps, as a true freshman, made his second career start. He completed 27-of-55 passes for 270 yards and threw two interceptions, while BYU receivers dropped numerous passes. The Aggies dominated from start to finish, building a 31-3 lead late in the third quarter.
"It was tough, especially since I couldn't participate in it," Frazier said. "It was tough to see my guys battle through it knowing I couldn't do anything about it."
After the game, USU coach Gary Andersen called it "a tremendous victory for us. It was something we have been looking for, obviously, for a long time. Against a quality team, in a packed house, on ESPN, I guess we can call it a rivalry now, huh? We finally got a victory."
Indeed, USU's win a year ago has rekindled the rivalry, which has been lopsided in favor of BYU. Prior to last season, the Cougars had won 10 consecutive games in the series. And before losing in Logan, 58-56, in 1993, BYU had won 10 in a row from 1983-1992.
Asked if he considers Utah State a rival, Frazier replied, "Definitely. It's an in-state rivalry. We like to play Utah State every year. I know, growing up in Utah, it's a big deal."
Mendenhall said Friday's showdown is "another difficult contest," adding that he likes playing the Aggies on a regular basis.
"I'm for the in-state trio of BYU, Utah and Utah State playing each other every year," he said. "The idea historically of the Beehive Boot and that having something of meaning and value is something that I would like to promote."
Mendenhall had high praise for Andersen, who is in his third season at the helm. The Aggies (1-2) nearly upset defending national champion Auburn in the season opener, then dropped a heartbreaker in double overtime last week in Logan, 35-34, against Colorado State.
"I have a lot of respect for coach Andersen," Mendenhall said. "I love the way he's coaching his team. I think they're making progress."
How has Andersen been able to elevate the program?
"Probably just mindset. He's an energetic coach with a lot of good football knowledge, a past history of success," Mendenhall said. "I think the players would like him and he has a good relationship with them. Then he's brought in good coaches around him to help him. … While the program, at this point, hasn't shown enough wins to say they've turned the corner, when you watch them play you can clearly see they're getting close."
Cougars, Aggies on the air
Utah State (1-2) at BYU (2-2)
Friday, 6 p.m.
LaVell Edwards Stadium
TV: ESPN Radio: 1160 AM, 610 AM, 102.7 FM, 97.5 FM
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