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Dick Harmon: BYU football: Cougars need to find accountability in tonight's game

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 12:14 p.m. MDT

Bronco Mendenhall watches as BYU commits seven turnovers in a blowout loss at home to Utah. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Bronco Mendenhall watches as BYU commits seven turnovers in a blowout loss at home to Utah. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

PROVO — To beat Central Florida tonight, BYU simply must score points and head coach Bronco Mendenhall will need to repeat a pattern.

No magic formula, just score. It will help if Jake Heaps can deliver critical third-down plays.

But that's a big order. BYU's offense has stumbled in scoring position and misfired on many third-down plays when a new set of downs or a big play were desperately needed, akin to a sip of water in the desert. So far this season, at many of those huge moments, somebody in BYU's offense has kicked over the canteen.

Somehow, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman and Heaps have to find a way to abandon the casual execution on Armageddon plays.

According to assistant head coach Lance Reynolds, the seven turnovers last week were uncharacteristic. Fumbles, bad hikes and dropped kickoffs were not a pattern of BYU's offensive players in fall practice.

Reynolds said Central Florida's defensive strengths today are the D-line and secondary.

"They have a couple of good corners and play sound defense. I think the first couple of weeks, they were one of the nation's leaders in defense. Most of the time, they are a sit-back-zone kind of a defense that makes you earn your way down the field. They got a little more aggressive at times last year than they are currently playing."

Reynolds said Utah played more zone and blitzed less than any time he can remember since Kyle Whittingham has been there. He expects much of the same with the Knights.

"They are a very good defensive football team. Their front isn't as physical as Texas, but like Texas, they are fast."

The Knights come to Provo after a BYU loss to Utah that was more than just a loss, it was a gut-check for the coaches, players and fans.

Generally speaking, under Bronco Mendenhall, BYU has used big, emotional losses to kick-start wins.

Think Notre Dame, Tulsa, TCU, Florida State and Utah State in years past.

In Mendenhall's first season (2005), the Cougars lost 49-23 at Notre Dame, then the next week whipped Air Force 62-41. Mendenhall often cites a 31-10 loss at San Diego State as a turning point for his program. That break-even team then finished the season with a 55-14 win over UNLV and a 35-21 decision over Wyoming before losing to Utah in overtime 41-34 and Cal 35-28.

In Mendenhall's third year (2007), the Cougars were taken to the woodshed at Tulsa 55-47, then returned to beat Air Force 31-6 to begin a 10-0 win streak. BYU victims included TCU 27-22, Utah 17-10 and UCLA 17-16 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

In 2008, BYU's big loss was 32-7 to TCU. The next week, Mendenhall got a 42-35 win over UNLV, part of a 4-0 mark before losses to No. 7 Utah and Arizona at the Las Vegas Bowl.

In 2009, the Cougars hosted Florida State and lost 54-28. The next week, BYU bounced back with a 42-23 win over CSU, part of a four-game win streak, before TCU ended it 38-7 in Provo. Mendenhall then turned that home loss into a springboard for a five-game win streak that ended with a 44-20 blowout of Oregon State in Las Vegas.

Last year, BYU started 1-4 and after Utah State spanked the Cougars 31-16, Mendenhall fired Jaime Hill. To "capture back the heart" of his team, Mendenhall took back Hill's role as defensive coordinator and finished 6-2, the only losses at ranked TCU and Utah on a blocked field goal before blowing out UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl.

A Mendenhall pattern? Is there a pattern of losing big then making something of the mess? Yes. One could say he coaches best in a pool of crisis, not comfort.

This week's picks:

Arizona State 21, USC 20: This is a crucial clash in the Pac-12 South. Look for Sun Devils' big QB to make more plays than USC.

Oregon 42, Arizona 10: The Wildcats have been disappointing, and Oregon is capable of making Arizona look downright ugly.

Utah State 21, Colorado State 17: This one will be a big win for the Aggies. Gary Andersen has too much firepower for the Rams.

Washington 24, Cal 21: Nice setup for the trip to Utah, and Steve Sarkisian's Huskies will knock off the Bears in a nail-biter.

UCLA 17, Oregon State 14: Some experts have Oregon State the victor, but I'll go with the Bruins in a mild upset of two struggling teams.

Florida State 28, Clemson 21: Great matchup of the neat accent guys. I'll take the Seminoles because of superior speed.

Texas A&M 32, Oklahoma State 28: Scoring in this game could get out of hand. The Aggies have the superior ranking and will hold home service.

Notre Dame 27, Pitt 21: I think the Fighting Irish have some momentum going after the Michigan State win and have placed the Michigan loss in the rear-view mirror.

BYU 24, Central Florida 21: Last benefit of the doubt this month. If Mendenhall's pattern produces a cleaner game and Heaps finds a sense of urgency on third downs, it is a win.

Last week 6-2; 19-5 overall (.791)

email: dharmon@desnews.com

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