Dick Harmon: Big game? Business as usual for Cougs

Published: Thursday, Aug. 13 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

The opponent is No. 3 Oklahoma, fresh off a national championship game appearance; the venue is football's most luxurious temple and in front of a nationwide ESPN audience; and a Heisman Trophy winner will be on the field.

That about sums up what awaits BYU come Sept. 5 at Cowboys Stadium.

So, are the Cougars ratcheting it up, hanging posters of Big Red on locker room walls, collecting every sarcastic Barry Switzer quote that might help? Are there twice as many film cutouts on file, more vitamins handed out with those Ruby River team barbecues?

Nope. Bronco Mendenhall isn't changing his approach to game preparation.

It's business as usual.

There is no tackling dummy disguised as Sooner star Sam Bradford in Provo.

Although the Cougars have implemented changes in the program, added some plays and tweaked others, asked players to work hard in the offseason, practiced keeping players off the out-of-bounds on the sidelines and exchanged QB coach Brandon Doman for offensive coordinator Robert Anae in the press box, the Oklahoma approach is no different than if this opener were against Air Force or Utah State.

This summer, coaches broke down film of BYU's first three opponents — Oklahoma, Tulane and Florida State. Just like last year. And the year before that.

"We didn't change our approach," Mendenhall said.

In other words, no quotes from the bootlegger's son. There are some dandies from back in 1984 to a year ago before Utah and Alabama kicked off in the Sugar Bowl.

"It might seem trivial, but we really don't intend to prepare for Oklahoma any different than anyone else. The focus is still on us," Mendenhall said. "The scrutiny is very high; they are a very good football team, but that doesn't mean they aren't unbeatable and we aren't capable."

The Cougars are 21-point underdogs to the Sooners. There are plenty of folks who think it won't be that close. Other national pundits, a minority like ESPN's Andre Ware, pick an upset.

Still, Mendenhall's hand on the rudder isn't gloved or adorned with any more rings or special glue. His whistle hangs around his neck on his chest at the same length. His approach is simple, the routine digestible and his practices pretty much mirror the past.

He's helping coach the defensive nose tackles, but other than that, Mendenhall didn't go on eBay and order silver bullets for practice because BYU is going to play Oklahoma. He doesn't have somebody stand on a soap box and announce every day, "Attention, attention: Guys, we're playing Oklahoma."

"What I don't want to do is prepare our players in a manner that 'If you don't do this, you don't have a chance to win a football game,' " he said.

"I want it to be, 'This is what we have to do to be successful,' no matter who we play. I think that approach will do it."

This mantra is staff-wide, and intentional. A sense of urgency? Yes. But reinventing practice in August? Not happening.

You see some new stuff, but the bread and butter is the same as it was a year ago. Quarterback Max Hall, sans wide receiver Austin Collie, has put down the periscope and is working at seeing things with a wide-angle lens.

There are differences from a year ago, but they are subtle.

"We just want to be as mentally prepared as possible, regardless of who our opponent is," receivers coach Patrick Higgins said. "We want to be on the top of our game whether it's Oklahoma or last year's opener against Northern Iowa. We respect everybody, but we want to take care of business in our house, make sure we are executing to the ability we expect at the end of the year.

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