PROVO Now that it has vanquished Northern Iowa at home, BYU is staring at its biggest nemesis squarely in the facemask. That would be the Cougars' inability to win a nonconference game on the road.
For all the sterling accomplishments BYU has achieved under coach Bronco Mendenhall since he took the helm in 2005, the Cougars have not beaten a non-Mountain West Conference opponent away from Provo during that span.
Over the past three seasons, BYU has fallen at Notre Dame (49-23), Arizona (16-13), Boston College (23-20, OT), UCLA (27-17) and Tulsa (55-47). The latter four losses have some common denominators they were close games that took place early in the season. The Cougars had their chances to win all four, but they squandered opportunities to do so because of penalties, turnovers or giving up big plays on defense.
Of course, Mendenhall is well aware that winning a nonconference contest on the road is a benchmark that has eluded the program.
"It certainly is something that I would like to do a great job of, helping our team prepare (to play on the road), not having been able to reach that goal since I've been the head coach," Mendenhall said.
"Different teams, different circumstances, different opponents, but I'd really like them to go on the road early this season and play well. They would as well. We're together on that."
The Cougars get another opportunity to overcome that hurdle Saturday, when they travel to Washington. The Huskies were stomped at Oregon last weekend, 44-10.
"I'm looking forward to getting out there and playing at Washington's stadium and showing the country what we can do," said BYU defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen.
Then again, the Cougars' woes on the road are longstanding, pre-dating the Mendenhall era. Since 2000, they have posted a dismal 4-14 record against nonconference foes on the road. BYU has lost nine straight nonconference road games and 12 of its last 13. The last time the Cougars won a nonconference road game was in 2002, when they had to rally from a 34-7 halftime deficit to upend Utah State.
What's more, BYU has never defeated the Huskies in Seattle in three tries.
One key for the Cougars against Tyrone Willingham's Washington team is containing fleet-footed quarterback Jake Locker, who rushed for 986 yards last season to go along with his 2,062 passing yards. In the victory over Northern Iowa, quarterback Pat Grace ripped off a 69-yard run in the first quarter but finished with 72 total yards on the ground.
"We'll probably see, arguably, one of the best athletes at quarterback this upcoming week," Mendenhall said. "The good news is, we have (quarterback) Stephen Covey on the scout team. He's one of the fastest guys on our team. We've been chasing him around for a week. He's hard to catch. He helped prepare us (against Northern Iowa)."
The Cougars learned a lot about what they need to improve on in Saturday's 41-17 victory over the Panthers. The most glaring breakdown was their four fumbles, including one when quarterback Max Hall was hit from behind in the end zone. His fumble produced a UNI touchdown.
What will it take to earn a road win? "We've just got to take it serious. We've got to come ready to play," Jorgensen said. "We've got to come ready to play every single day in practice. We've got to come focused and be ready to play a really good team.""It's going to be a great challenge," BYU receiver Mike Reed said about playing at Washington. "Come Monday morning, it's back to business, working on Washington. We'll be facing a good team. They have a great coaching staff over there. They have a good quarterback and a good defense. So we know what we're facing. We know what we have to get prepared for. Come Monday, we've got to start getting things a lot crisper."
BYU's road woes
Since 2000, BYU's record against non-conference opponents on the road is 4-14.
at Florida State ... L, 29-3
at Virginia ... W, 38-35 (OT)
at Syracuse ... L, 42-14
at California ... W, 44-16
at Miss. St. ... W, 41-38 (OT)
at Hawaii ... L, 72-45
at Nevada ... L, 31-28
at Georgia Tech ... L, 28-19
at Utah State ... W, 35-34
at USC ... L, 35-18
at Notre Dame ... L, 33-14
at Stanford ... L, 37-10
at Boise State ... L, 28-27
at Notre Dame ... L, 49-23
at Arizona ... L, 16-13
at Boston Coll. ... L, 23-20 (OT)
Cougars on the air
BYU at Washington
Husky Stadium, Seattle
Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV: Fox SportsRadio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
E-MAIL: [email protected]