Dick Harmon: What can BYU gain from playing Idaho State?

Published: Saturday, Nov. 16 2013 1:15 a.m. MST

Idaho State quarterback Justin Arias in action against Washington in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Seattle.

Elaine Thompson, AP

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PROVO — What benefits can BYU gain from playing Idaho State, a team the Cougars are overwhelmingly favored to defeat come Saturday in LaVell Edwards Stadium?

Well, for one, it’s an opportunity to win a game. That little item is huge when one considers that the last time Bronco Mendenhall’s team trotted onto the field it lost. Duh.

I’d wager Mendenhall uses the loss to Wisconsin as a last-call, gather-up-the-troops, gird-up-the-loins kind of wake-up call to get the last vestiges of effort and concentration out of his team heading into the final four games of 2013.

To a man, after the Wisconsin game, BYU players and coaches questioned by the media praised the Badgers, then explained and listed how many mistakes were made in Madison.

The list was big, it grew like a Lego set. Missed tackles, missed assignments, incorrect pad level on tackles, “missed run fits,” is how defensive coordinator Nick Howell explained another type of breakdown. Then there were dropped passes, missed blocks, failures to take advantage of perimeter opportunities, the ever-haunting false start penalties and the inexplicable 12-men on the field infraction coming out of a timeout in the fourth quarter.

BYU went to Wisconsin with a neat, tidy and impressive five-game win streak. The Cougars then got punched, rattled and Big Ten-lassoed on national TV. The results of it in real time showed in both execution and composure on the field and on the sidelines during that game.

Wisconsin was better. But BYU did itself no favors by piling up toxic blunders. For BYU, the Idaho State game is a high colonic.

You can tell how great a team is when a quality opponent puts it in stress. BYU did not handle that stress very well in Madison.

I think if anything, Mendenhall uses this week and the Idaho State game to clean things up. It’s more than a lick-the-wounds kind of thing, although there’s been plenty of that the past 10 days.

No question losing linebackers Austen Jorgensen, Spencer Hadley, slotback and punt returner JD Falslev, receiver Mitch Mathews and tight end Devin Mahina in the course of a few days threw the team off. So did playing in Camp Randall.

But this week comes the challenge for others to step up. I like what receivers coach Guy Holliday said on Monday that one guy’s junk is another guy's gold mine.

One could say the same about improved coaching; better play calls, better management of the game clock, making quicker in-game adjustments and fine-tuning the art of “setting” up defenses. As much improvement as Robert Anae and his new staff have brought Mendenhall, there remains plenty of room to tweak things before going to South Bend for another big, made-for-TV dream game.

“It’s a springboard to the next game,” said Howell.

Well, then springboard.

Find replacements for the ailing, build depth. Get Ammon Olsen on the field. Throw in some extra formations. Do something crazy so Notre Dame has to game plan for it. Set the tone for the final run in November and December.

If the Cougars just do two things better against Idaho State — eliminate false starts and tackle better — they’ve taken steps forward. But there’s much more that can be done, and all of it is needed at Notre Dame.

“Both sides (of the ball) can get better,” said Howell. “Both can make strides.”

Well, let’s see it.

That, and saluting seniors after a win, is what BYU’s final home game is all about.

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