PROVO — The last time Oregon State visited BYU, in 1986, Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall was a starting safety for the Beavers.

That day, OSU defeated the Cougars 10-7. For Mendenhall, it was a defining moment.

"I laid on the 50-yard line after the game, spread-eagle, not that I played well, it was just a good win," he recalled this week. "Then I got up after about five minutes and thought, 'Now what?' I had to re-examine why I was actually doing what I was doing. Like a lot of victories, they don't last very long. They're kind of fleeting. It makes you re-examine your priorities. I remember the game and it was fun."

The reason that victory meant so much to Mendenhall was that at one time he had intentions of playing at BYU.

"My dad and brother played here," he said. "Quite frankly, I wasn't a good enough player. They didn't have a need. I took it as, because I was young and immature, like a lot of young guys, that I was passed over. So I was going to choose a school that was going to play BYU."

The Cougars and Beavers have played twice since Mendenhall became the head coach eight years ago. BYU won in the 2009 Las Vegas Bowl, 44-20, and the Cougars were victorious in Corvallis last year, 38-28.

Mendenhall was not only a two-year starter at safety and linebacker at OSU, but he also served as a graduate assistant from 1989-90, defensive line coach in 1995, and defensive coordinator in 1996 for the Beavers.

HAVING THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES: BYU's defense is among the nation's leaders in almost every category. And the Cougars are having a blast, too.

"It's the most fun in the world," said linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "Anytime you work really hard for something and you get to see the results pay off, it's the best feeling in the world. We're doing that week in and week out right now, and it's a good feeling."

How much is the defense enjoying this season?

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"There was a time in the Utah State game, they had just made a stop (in the fourth quarter)," Mendenhall said. "They had water bottles over on the sideline. They were sitting down. Kyle Van Noy and Brandon Ogletree were spraying guys down like it was champagne bottles after they had won the pennant or something. Our coaches are trying to calm down, saying, 'Hey, you've got to go back out.' And they said, 'That's why we're celebrating.' They weren't celebrating the stop, but that they get to go out and play again. It was 6-3 and I was a wreck … They seem oblivious to anything other than they get to play again."

MATHEWS OUT: Tight end/wide receiver Marcus Mathews' season is over, and will take a medical redshirt.

Since August, Mathews, a junior, has been struggling with an illness that has affected his ears, nose and throat and requires surgery.

"He's been sick over and over again," Mendenhall said. "They've finally identified what it is. That's going to continue all year, which doesn't give him a chance to compete."