It’s just exposure. It’s another chance for a quality win on a big stage. It’s not life-or-death. It’s not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s a great opportunity. We intend to do the very best we can. I’m looking forward to it. —BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Two weeks ago, BYU invaded Camp Randall Stadium for a showdown against nationally ranked Wisconsin.
While the Cougars gave the Badgers a battle, ultimately they fell in disappointing fashion, 27-17.
BYU has another shot at winning a big game in the Midwest Saturday (1:30 p.m. MST, NBC) when it visits Notre Dame.
In five trips to historic Notre Dame Stadium, the Cougars have won just once, a 21-14 upset over the nationally ranked Fighting Irish in 1994.
This time, the Irish, who had a bye last week, aren’t ranked, and they’re coming off a surprising loss at Pittsburgh.
What’s at stake this time against Notre Dame?
“It’s just exposure. It’s another chance for a quality win on a big stage,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall. “It’s not life-or-death. It’s not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s a great opportunity. We intend to do the very best we can. I’m looking forward to it.”
“We have a really good opportunity to make some noise on a national stage,” said quarterback Taysom Hill. “Even if we have a really good showing, I think it’s good for our program. We put ourselves in a good situation to make ourselves known. We did that at Wisconsin. I feel like we can compete with anybody in the country.”
The Cougars, who lost 17-14 last year to the Irish in South Bend, say they won’t be in awe of the aura, mystique, tradition and history of Notre Dame.
“This week, it’s all about winning. It’s a business trip,” said defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna. “We’re not trying to take away from the history they have there. It’s a business trip, and we’re going there to win and go against a good program.”
Added Manumaleuna: “It’s a big game. It’s a big challenge going against their offensive line. They’re good, physical, experienced guys, similar to Wisconsin.”
BYU is hoping the experience of having played in front of 80,000 fans at Camp Randall Stadium has prepared it for playing in front of another 80,000 at Notre Dame Stadium.
“It’s going to be nothing new for us. We’ve been on the road before and we’ve been in hostile environments and we’ve played really good teams on the road,” Hill said. “We’ve been there. Now we just need to learn how to go in and execute at a high level and get a win against a quality team. Hopefully we can put all those things together and get a win.”
Manumaluena said his team won’t be intimidated by the atmosphere.
“When I first started playing against big schools and playing in great stadiums, it did take an impact and an influence on the game that I played,” he said. “Having that experience under my belt, it’s helped a lot. I don’t want to go there and take in all the great history. It’s a business trip. It’s another great challenge for us and a great opportunity for our team to step forward and progress.”
Both Manumaleuna and Hill were on injured status last year when BYU played at Notre Dame, which means this will be their first shot at playing in South Bend.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s a really good program,” Hill said. “It’s a fun atmosphere and a tough atmosphere to play in, from the things that I’ve heard. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to showcase what we can do.”
Mendenhall would love to see his team be consistent, make big plays and come out with a victory.
“We have a great opportunity. I need to prepare our team and they need to prepare to capitalize on that. That’s what our focus is,” he said. “It’s a great experience, but we’re going there to play well. They can look around the stadium afterwards — hopefully with a positive experience.”