PROVO — For BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, the memories of his team's 32-7 thumping at TCU last season still sting. It was a painful learning experience for the Cougars, who were overwhelmed, shell-shocked and knocked off their pedestal that Thursday night in Fort Worth.
"I remember the losses a lot more than I do the wins, mostly because they hurt more, and then you learn more," Mendenhall said.
And there were plenty of lessons to be learned from that humbling meltdown.
The Cougars, who were the reigning two-time Mountain West Conference champions and sitting squarely in the national spotlight, entered the game ranked No. 9, riding a 16-game winning streak. But they ran into a purple-clad buzz saw at Amon G. Carter Stadium, falling behind 23-0 at halftime, then watched their perfect season and Bowl Championship Series dreams get dashed to pieces.
"I remember going into the game feeling that some of the attention was starting to affect not only myself as the coach but our players," Mendenhall said. "I remember just watching our team not perform well and realizing I hadn't prepared them to perform well. Those are always hard feelings to handle. ... I don't like that feeling very much."
As No. 10 TCU and No. 16 BYU prepare to collide again Saturday (5:30 p.m., Versus) the scenario is similar to last season — only the roles are reversed. This time, it's the Horned Frogs who are ranked in the top 10 and riding a winning streak — which stands at eight games — and chasing an elusive BCS berth.
A year ago, the hungrier, faster and more athletic Frogs exposed the weaknesses of a Cougar team that hadn't played any good teams to that point of the season.
"Maybe we had a false sense of security that we were a little bit better than what we were," Mendenhall said. "I think because we had beaten TCU the previous two years, possibly some of the luster had come off playing against them, where maybe our players didn't respect what they were capable of to the level necessary."
A review of last year's box score reveals the depths of BYU's struggles against TCU.
Cougar quarterback Max Hall was sacked six times — four by All-America defensive lineman Jerry Hughes — and he completed only 22-of-42 passes for 274 yards with two interceptions. The Cougars coughed up two fumbles and didn't score until late in the third quarter.
BYU's defense, meanwhile, surrendered 410 yards of total offense and could not stop TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, who completed 12-of-19 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns, or Jeremy Kerley, who lined up in the "Wildcat" position and rushed nine times for 77 yards and a TD.
BYU fell behind early and failed to score in the first half of a game for the first time in more than three years. It was a scenario the Cougars hadn't confronted in a long time. They started to press in the face of a large deficit.
"I remember just a very volatile start and looking at our organization and realizing we hadn't been in that situation much over the previous couple of years, playing from behind and really being challenged from beginning to end and then our execution not holding to respond," Mendenhall said. "So I looked hard at possibly how I was preparing our team and realized that even though we had tremendous success and hadn't been playing from behind in those circumstances, we'd better start training that, knowing the league is better, the teams we're playing are better and any given day that we could not be playing well."
On Saturday, the Cougars are hoping they can prove they are better than what they showed a year ago.
"You've got to remember last year and just hopefully learn a lesson from that," said BYU defensive lineman Brett Denney. "Emotions will play into it for those guys who remember last year and what happened. You feel like that wasn't us last year. We made some mistakes. We want to come out this year and re-establish who we really are."
Mendenhall is looking for a different result this time against TCU.
"There are two good football teams playing," he said. "The outcome might be the only way to answer that to what's changed. I hope the outcome will have changed, but it's too early to tell."
Cougars on the air
TCU (6-0) at BYU (6-1)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM