BOSTON When BYU lines up against No. 23 Boston College on Saturday at Alumni Stadium, the Cougars will go up against a program that possesses qualities that coach Bronco Mendenhall is attempting to instill in his own program.
The Eagles are physical and a model of consistency. They know how to win close games and make few mistakes.
Since coach Tom O'Brien took the reins of a program rocked by a gambling scandal in 1987, he has turned it into one of the country's most successful. Since 2000, the Eagles are 20th in the nation in winning percentage (52-24, .684) and have claimed six straight bowl victories, the longest streak in the nation.
"We have a lot of respect for them and the six straight bowl games they've won, and the maturity of their program," Mendenhall said. "I know they're well-coached. We're just preparing for a very good program."
The Cougars will have to play an error-free game to have a chance at upsetting BC.
"They're a program that's always going to bowl games," said Cougar quarterback John Beck. "It's a program that's earned what they've gotten. Because of that, we're going to have to play a good game. We can't turn the ball over and we can't have a huge amount of penalties."
The Cougars (1-1) fell to the Eagles in last year's season-opener in Provo, 20-3. Though BC lost several starters from that squad that finished 9-3, Mendenhall expects to see another solid foe.
"Boston College has a very clear and specific identity. They're confident in that approach," he said. "It's proven to work over time regardless of the opponent. I'm not sure they'll change for us, nor anybody, because it's already working. They've provided a success rate and stability in that program and a clear direction that's hard to argue with, so I think they will be the same."
The Eagles (2-0) burst into the Top 25 after last weekend's thrilling 34-33 double overtime victory over then-No. 18 Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams.
In the second OT, the Tigers got the ball first and scored, but BC junior linebacker Jolonn Dunbar blocked the PAT. On the Eagles' ensuing possession, quarterback Matt Ryan, who had been nursing a sprained ankle and received the starting nod 20 minutes before kickoff, led his team to a game-tying TD. Placekicker Ryan Ohliger booted the game-winning PAT.
"Well, we sure are an exciting football team," O'Brien said. "We don't do anything easy."
The Eagles are 7-0 in games Ryan has started, dating back to last season.
The star of the game, though, was true freshman kick returner Jeff Smith, who returned five kickoffs for 213 yards. The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder leads the nation in kickoff return yardage and his 96-yard return for a touchdown swung the momentum in BC's favor early in the second half.
"Any time a returner has over 200 yards, there's no question they've got our attention," Mendenhall said. "We know that our only ability to have any kind of field position advantage is to cover the kicks well. There are a few wrinkles that we plan on incorporating; however, they will eventually figure out where we are. We will have to play with leverage, we will have to get off our blocks and we have to tackle well. If there are seams, he will hit them and he'll be gone. We acknowledge that he is a phenomenal talent, but the focus in practice is our execution of the coverage."
One hallmark of Boston College teams over the years has been its offensive line. Eight Eagle O-linemen have been selected in the NFL draft over the past eight years and this year's line figures to have future pros as well. Left tackle James Marten (6-foot-7, 307 pounds), left guard Ryan Poles (6-foot-4, 295), center Kevin Sheridan (6-foot-3, 290), right guard Josh Beekman (6-foot-1, 321) and right tackle Gosder Cherilus (6-foot-7, 318) combine to weigh 1,531 pounds and have tallied 74 career starts.
"Very seldom do they miss a block. Very seldom do they not execute up front," Mendenhall said." Very seldom do you align fronts that they haven't seen or don't know how to block. It will come down to the fundamental parts of the game. They're going to block you. Very few plays that I've seen in the last three years of looking at their film have I seen unblocked players, assignment mistakes up front. They're as well-coached as I've seen ..." the reason I think they're able to sustain the success they have as a program is because of the offensive front.
Boston College will be the one of the Cougars' toughest tests all season.
BYU (1-1) at No. 23 Boston College (2-0)
Saturday, 10 a.m.