PROVO — For BYU, last Friday's 24-17 decision over Central Florida was more than just a win.
It also put closure on a miserable week that started with a 54-10 shellacking at the hands of arch-rival Utah on Sept. 17.
"We all needed it," coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the victory. "Anytime you play below your potential, or perform below your potential, or coach below your potential, you're anxious to show that you're capable of more to yourself and to feel different, in a more positive way."
Boosted by that win over UCF, the Cougars (2-2) are now preparing for in-state rival Utah State, which beat them in Logan last October, 31-16. BYU and USU clash Friday (6 p.m., ESPN).
The Aggies (1-2) are coming off a heartbreaking double-overtime loss at home to Colorado State, 35-34.
BYU received plenty of help from its special teams against UCF, highlighted by Cody Hoffman's electrifying 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter, marking the first time the Cougars have returned a kickoff for a TD in 13 years and 161 games.
While BYU's offense and defense still have glaring deficiencies to address, Mendenhall said he "saw progress overall as a team."
"I always feel like there's work to be done," said linebacker Jameson Frazier. "I'm just excited to get after it (this) week and get things going again."
Beating UCF halted a two-game losing streak and linebacker Jadon Wagner said it also gave his team some much-needed momentum.
"Momentum is good, obviously," he said. "It was a team win — offense, defense and special teams. It's a lot of momentum. We're just happy with a win and with the direction the team is going. We're excited."
Certainly, the Cougars are feeling better about themselves, much better than they did a week ago, on the heels of a devastating 44-point loss to the Utes. The Cougars were outscored 40-0 in the second half.
Mendenhall learned a lot about his team during that week.
"I learned that they're tough mentally and that they won't quit," he said. "They pulled together. This was a hard week, just bluntly speaking, from comments that were made (to the players), and losing to their rival by the way the second half unraveled. That hurt them — myself included. I was proud of them for the way they responded. That will serve them well in their lives."
Quarterback Jake Heaps said this past week unified his team.62 comments on this story
"We had a real heart-to-heart players' meeting with each other. That was great for our football team — offensively and defensively getting on the same page," he said. "I think it carried over to practice and the mindset. We have the talent, we have the players, we have the potential to be a phenomenal football team. It's where our mindset's at and what we're going to do, down in and down out. I really like where our guys' heads are at right now.
"Within our locker room, it's huge to be able to have experiences like that where you grow closer as a team and guys are going to respect each other and love each other that much more," Heaps added. "It's going to be fun to see where our team decides to take it from here."
Cougars and Aggies on the air
Utah State (1-2) at BYU (2-2)
Friday, 6 p.m. MT
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM