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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Fans and students get ready for BYU and Virginia to play Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.

PROVO — BYU didn’t enjoy much of a home-field advantage last season.

Come to think of it, the Cougars didn’t enjoy much of anything amid a dreadful 4-9 campaign, which included a 2-4 record at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

In the final home game of the season, BYU suffered one of its most humiliating losses in the modern era with a 16-10 setback to lowly UMass.

As the Cougars host Cal in the 2018 home-opener Saturday (8:15 p.m., MDT, ESPN2), they are determined to re-establish their home-field advantage that vanished a year ago.

“We’ve got to protect the house,” said senior running back Squally Canada, who rushed for 98 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-23 win at Arizona a week ago. “We can’t let (the Golden Bears) come in here and think it’s their home field and let them get a win on LaVell’s field.”

Said senior quarterback Tanner Mangum: “It’s always a blast playing at LaVell Edwards Stadium. It’s always a great environment. It’s always fun being there in front of the home crowd, feeling that noise, that energy. I’m pumped. I’m pumped to get out there this week. It’s the first home game. It’s an exciting thing. Saturday night, it’s going to be fun. I can’t wait.”

“We went to the (BYU) freshman orientation (last week) and those guys are excited,” said senior linebacker Butch Pau’u. “We expect to see that same excitement from the rest of the crowd. There’s been a lot of doubt about this team and we’ve proven that we can play. We expect a lot of excitement and a lot of energy and for 65,000 people to be cheering us on.”

Aside from rebounding from a dismal showing at home last year, BYU is looking to go 2-0 on the season, something few thought possible after a disastrous 2017 campaign.

Hope was renewed after the Cougars’ impressive victory at Arizona.

“All the hard work paid off but that means we’re just barely getting started with the work, too. The goal is to work harder this week and get us in position to be 2-0. That’s what we’re trying to get done,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “A lot of things happened in that first game. It’s going to be harder. It was hard to go 1-0 and it’s going to be hard to go 2-0.

"We expect that. We’ll have to put forth the work. They (the Golden Bears) know a lot about what we do on offense now. We know what they do. Now we’ll move on to the next phase. It’s going to be hard for both teams to go 2-0.”

Defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi wants to see his team build on the momentum from last week.

“Everyone was like, ‘It was a great win,’ and it was. But it only matters if we keep winning,” he said. “We can’t let last week determine the rest of the season. It’s a week-to-week thing. That will be huge for us to get a win this week.”

Tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau said the offense wants to continue to impose its will on opposing defenses like it did at Arizona.

“One of our goals as an offense was establish that physical dominance and make our presence known,” he said. “So much credit to (offensive line coach Ryan) Pugh and (offensive coordinator Jeff) Grimes and the O-line and Squally and Zach (Katoa) running hard. It was cool to see that smash-mouth football and moving the chains.”

Said Sitake, “If we own the line of scrimmage, I should be smiling every week.”

To what does Laulu-Pututau attribute BYU’s offensive improvement since last season?

“It’s really a credit to our coaches. It’s pedal to the metal the whole time. It’s improving, improving, improving,” he said. “They continually increase the level of expectation for us. With the kind of guys we have on the offense, we’re able to rise up to that. We need to keep working, keep grinding. We’re not there.”

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“Our No. 1 key to the game was to physically dominate at each position,” said offensive lineman Austin Hoyt. “That’s something coach Pugh talks about every single day, is the importance of being physical and violent and manhandling people. That was something we thought about going into the game (at Arizona) and I’m glad we were able to do that to a good level.”

Pau’u is hoping to see his team keep improving Saturday after last week’s encouraging win.

“It’s extremely important," he said. "We need to make sure we do our jobs in those moments. Some guys may get nervous but we need to understand that we’re playing with our brothers and we’re playing for each other and we’re playing at home.”

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