It’s an opportunity to beat a great team at a great place, to really show who we are. —BYU wide receiver Mitch Mathews
PASADENA, Calif. — As an independent, BYU’s schedule furnishes opportunities to make a national statement early in the season.
The No. 19 Cougars (2-0) have capitalized so far with two memorable, last-minute victories — on the road against Nebraska, and last week against a nationally ranked Boise State team.
Some in the national media have declared that BYU owns two of the most impressive wins in the country at this stage of the season.
Now the Cougars are looking to continue this magical ride against a Pac-12 opponent at a storied venue, the Rose Bowl.
After vaulting into the rankings this week, BYU has another chance on a big stage to garner even more national respect when it visits No. 10 UCLA Saturday (8:30 p.m. MDT, Fox Sports 1).
“It’s an opportunity to beat a great team at a great place, to really show who we are,” said wide receiver Mitch Mathews. “We could be one of the most talked about teams in the country right now with what we’ve been doing. All eyes are going to be on us, so if we go and sit on our hands, then we’ll squander what we’ve already built. Going to their place and beating them there will solidify those two wins that we had and they won’t become lucky anymore.”
Despite what it has accomplished this season, BYU is a big underdog against UCLA (2-0). Then again, the Cougars were underdogs in the first two games, too.
“You’ve got to go in with a chip on your shoulder,” said BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi. “We always have something to prove. The kids are excited to get a great opportunity like this.”
Last season, BYU won its first four games, including a 41-7 dismantling of Texas on the road. The Cougars understand the importance of early-season wins against brand opponents.
But coach Bronco Mendenhall refuses to make Saturday’s game bigger than any other.
“What our players and I hear is, ‘It’s the biggest game of this era or the biggest game of independence or the biggest game of this season,’” he said. “Nebraska is pretty big. Boise is pretty big. UCLA now is pretty big. And my guess is Michigan after that will be pretty big. We’ll just keep playing and that’s all I’m telling my team. To think about it any more than that is just a distraction. The more we think about something else besides our assignments and getting ready for our opponent, the more of a mistake it will be. That’s been my message to them.”
Still, Mathews acknowledge that given the circumstances, this is the “most important” game he’s played in.
“Every game really is important,” he added. “But the focus, the intensity of practice, needs to be at its highest level to beat these guys.”
And he knows all about the challenge the Bruins pose.
“They’re athletic. They get four- and five-star recruits so they’ll have great athletes and great speed,” he said. “On defense, they do a lot of, I wouldn’t say trickery, but they try to confuse the quarterback with some of their coverages. They’re a good team. They’ll always be ranked because they always have great athletes and great players.”
And BYU knows going to the Rose Bowl is always special.
“You definitely look forward it,” said quarterbacks coach Jason Beck. “It’s a fun opportunity to play a good opponent, a ranked opponent at a good venue. It will be a fun challenge for our team.”
“It’s a huge game for us,” said Kaufusi. “We’re just going to keep doing what we do and be ready to go.”
As an independent, the Cougars need to take advantage of these opportunities.
“Another great challenge for us,” Mendenhall said. “Really fun to have these kinds of opponents week in and week out."