PROVO — Going into last Saturday's showdown with Utah, the outcome of three of BYU's previous four games, dating back to last season, were decided by one point.
But against the Utes, the wheels inexplicably came off, as the Cougars absorbed an embarrassing 54-10 loss at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
For the second consecutive week, BYU (1-2) has played well enough to win in the first half, only to collapse in the second.
Now, the Cougars head into a short week with a home game against Central Florida on Friday.
Where does BYU go from here?
This is a team that gave up seven turnovers, including six fumbles, against Utah; was outscored, 40-0, in the second half; and surrendered 481 yards of total offense to the heretofore struggling Ute offense. This is a team that has scored three offensive touchdowns all season.
The Cougars are looking for a way to change the course of the season.
"I intend to bounce back and hopefully I can provide that example for our team," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "If you're in coaching, then one of the greatest challenges is to help a team bounce back from that. That's what our intention is. I'm anxious to see not only how the staff but the players respond. My responsibility is to coach them in a way and lead them in a way that they will respond. I'm determined to do so."
This marks the fifth time in seven years under Mendenhall that the Cougars have started with a 1-2 record.
Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman is also determined to help the offense turn things around.
"As difficult as this is, as hard as this is, I don't know how to quit. I don't know how," he said. "So we're not going to do that. We're going to continue to fight and battle and search for the answers to help these kids be successful. I think it was pretty clear that we can be pretty good. But that's not any fun to 'can be pretty good.' For me as a coordinator, I've got to find a way to help these kids … They'll come back. These kids are resilient. They're unique young men. They'll bounce back and be ready to go. But now I've got to give them a plan that's going to work."
Added Doman: "I just don't think we're very mentally tough right now and we're not executing well. The kids play like they're prepared to play. They're not prepared to play great right now."
Doman saw his offense gain an abysmal 11 yards rushing against Utah.
"It's a great frustration. It's hard to be good when you're not running the football effectively. And we haven't been very good at it this year," Doman said, who added that the run game was a point of emphasis during the off-season. "I thought we were good at it, but we're not. The most important thing in the run game is who's carrying it. That's first. Then the second thing is the scheme. I'm not so sure either of them are right right now."
The Cougars are facing a UCF team that lost its first game of the year, 17-7, last Saturday to Florida International.
BYU quarterback Jake Heaps, who threw for a career-best 305 yards in the setback to Utah, said the key to a turnaround is to stop turning the ball over.
"If guys aren't motivated to get this bad taste out of their mouth, then I don't know what's going to motivate anybody," he said. "A loss like this, especially when we knew the game could be so much different, you walk away from this game just shaking your head just because of the fact that we gave (Utah) the game. We gave them the opportunities to score points."
Mendenhall and his staff have their work cut out for them this week.
"With as poorly as we played (against Utah), the gap to get closed and the timeliness to close it, that urgency right now is everything that I felt from the third quarter on, is to get the team from where they're going to need to be, to respond, and respond soon enough. That's going to be a real challenge, but I'm looking forward to it," Mendenhall said. "We certainly haven't gotten through to the players yet in terms of playing the way that we can. I've got to do a better job with our staff to help them in whatever way that I can (to) get our players to perform at a level we're capable of. We're not doing that yet."
Former BYU tight end Chad Lewis, who is now the school's associate athletic director for development, said Sunday that after Saturday's loss, he supports Mendenhall, Doman and the players more than ever, adding that the humbling setback to the Utes will galvanize the team, and the program, for the future.
Cougars on the air
Central Florida (2-1) at BYU (1-2)
Friday, 6 p.m. MT
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM