PROVO With a bye and a postponement, BYU endured two weekends off in October. Suddenly, the Cougars have only a few days to prepare for their next opponent.
That opponent is TCU, which is coming off a dominating 37-0 win over New Mexico. BYU, which thumped Colorado State, 35-16 on Saturday and holds a two-game lead in the Mountain West Conference standings, entertains the Horned Frogs Thursday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium in a showdown between the defending MWC champions and the preseason MWC favorites.
Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall doesn't like the idea of playing midweek games. Over the years, he's learned to adapt to them, but it's been a steep learning curve.
His first Thursday night game came in his first year as BYU's defensive coordinator in 2003. Colorado State embarrassed the Cougars at Edwards Stadium, 58-13. Less than a month later, Boise State crushed BYU in another Thursday night game, 50-12.
In 2004, BYU lost a pair of Friday night games, at Boise State (28-27) and at home against UNLV (24-20). Then, after no regular-season Thursday games in 2005, the Cougars downed TCU, 31-17, on a Thursday night in Fort Worth last season. It was a breakthrough victory for the program, marking BYU's first road win over a ranked team in nine years and serving as a springboard to the Cougars' first league championship since 2001.
"If you look simply at last year's result and it's not last year's team nor would I compare it to last year's team but the model was one that started with myself being a defensive coordinator giving up 50-something points to this same team (CSU) in my first Thursday night game," Mendenhall said. "Finally, we've got a plan, I believe, that's effective that gives our kids a chance to play and win on a Thursday night on a short week."
Part of that plan included handing out DVDs of TCU's games to the players as they left the locker room following the rout of the Rams. Mendenhall committed his players to watch the DVD Saturday night at home.
"You've got to get ahead mentally for a game on Thursday," said BYU cornerback Ben Criddle.
After the CSU game, BYU's coaching staff met at the football office until late Saturday night to study film and put together a game plan for TCU.
"Monday is a Wednesday practice of a normal game week, if that puts it in perspective," Mendenhall said.
When asked, Mendenhall explained that his aversion to midweek contests stems from those games not being in the best interest of the players.
"They are here to get an education first. Their quality of life is something that matters to me," Mendenhall said. "I think we all know the exposure that drives games that aren't played at normal times or on normal days. There are those programs that seek that exposure and attention, and I'm not arguing with that point. But my first thought is for the student-athletes. Playing on a Thursday night gives them less time to recover, it interferes more with their studies and is much more difficult and not necessary in general."
That aside, the Cougars know they need to prepare well in the short time they have.
"We've got to be a little more focused," said quarterback Max Hall. "We'll watch film over the weekend, and we've got to have a sharp practice Monday. We have to make sure we execute our stuff well, and we'll be fine.""We just have to get after it," said defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen. "We have to move on to TCU."