PROVO — For the BYU football team, these are the quirks, and thrills, of an independent schedule.
BYU (4-2) and undefeated Houston meet for the first time ever Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPNEWS) in a contest that will be played at 71,000-seat Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans.
“I like independence because we have a chance to play on the biggest stages and (have) more flexibility than what we’ve had before,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall. “Any time we have a chance to play in a unique venue, I like it.”
“Playing at an NFL stadium is cool,” said linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
“It will be a fun atmosphere,” said quarterback Taysom Hill. “I’m looking forward to that. ... I love going into hostile environments. I don’t know how hostile Houston will be, but it’s a fun atmosphere to play on the road.”
This game also allows BYU to make an appearance in the state of Texas, which is fertile recruiting ground.
“We actually recruit Texas, and Houston specifically,” Mendenhall said. “We expect a great turnout for the fireside and the game. There’s a lot of interest already in terms of emails, letters from people looking forward to us coming.”
This is BYU’s first game out of the state of Utah since August, when it opened the season with a loss at Virginia.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve been on the road,” Van Noy said. “We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good challenge for us. They’re 5-0 and we believe we can go down there and make some noise.”
“It’s a nice break and some diversity,” Mendenhall said of going on the road. “A lot of times, it increases focus. I think our guys are kind of looking forward to getting on the road. It’s exciting to change venues. We love playing at home. But part of college football is getting to travel and play in unique cities.
"It’s not like when we were in the Mountain West and we go to the same places year in and year out. We get to go to new places each year, which I kind of like and I think our players do.”
While this is a road game, thousands of BYU fans are expected to be in attendance at Reliant Stadium.
Hill said that there are plenty of advantages to playing on the road in terms of his team's development.
“It’s good for our team to mature. Houston is 5-0 and they’re a great football team,” he explained. “We’re going to be playing in a lot more hostile environments down the road when we travel to Wisconsin and Notre Dame (in November). I think it’s an advantage to get us prepared for those games later in the season — not overlooking Houston when I say that. That is an advantage.”
While BYU’s offense continues to improve, the BYU defense has held 12 consecutive opponents to 21 points or less. It’s a streak the Cougars are looking to extend.
“It’s the way it goes around here. That’s what we’re expected to do,” Van Noy said. “For us, we’re not satisfied. We think people are scoring one too many touchdowns against us.”
Houston’s offense is led by true freshman John O’Korn, who replaced David Piland. Piland's career came to an end earlier this season due to multiple concussions. O’Korn led his team to a 59-28 victory in his first road start against UTSA. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder has completed 86 of 145 passes this season for 1,131 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception.
O'Korn's favorite target is wide receiver Deontay Greenberry, who has caught 39 passes for 606 yards and three touchdowns.
“They have good, athletic guys across the board,” Van Noy said.
Houston employs a fast-paced, spread offense that is very much like BYU’s. It’s a stark contrast to the triple-option attack BYU's defense faced last week against Georgia Tech.
“It’s a similar offense, similar style to our offense,” said BYU safety Daniel Sorensen. “Hurry-up, up-tempo, they average a lot of plays a game. They like to spread it out and they’re balanced as well between running and throwing the ball.”
For BYU, the ultimate goal against Houston is simple.
“We want to go down there,” Van Noy said, “and give them their first loss.”
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