Provo • BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall rarely compares opponents’ strengths and weaknesses or talks about the degree of difficulty of the Cougars’ schedule, but several times during his postgame news conference after walloping Hawaii 47-0 the coach alluded to October having the potential to be a scary month for his 3-2 team.
The competition will be “more diligent and stiffer,” he cautioned when asked about Jamaal Williams’ success, warning against jumping on the freshman running back’s “bandwagon.” He also predicted more close games, like the ones against Boise State and Utah, rather than the blowouts against Washington State, Weber State and Hawaii, “based on the difficult opponents we will play.”
And it begins Friday, when the 4-1 Utah State Aggies roll into LaVell Edwards Stadium (8:15 p.m., ESPN) for their long-awaited rematch with Riley, although it is not certain yet whether BYU starting quarterback Riley Nelson will play, having sat out the Hawaii game with a sore back.
Nelson, who played significantly as a freshman for Utah State before transferring to BYU after a church mission to Spain, directed BYU’s 27-24 comeback win over the Aggies last year in Provo, cementing his status as Public Enemy No. 1 in the Cache Valley, where he grew up.
Also in October, the Cougars play host to No. 14 Oregon State (3-0), then travel to No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0) before finishing the month in Atlanta at disappointing Georgia Tech (2-3), which lost 49-28 at home Saturday to Middle Tennessee State.
But first things first. Utah State is hot, having defeated future Mountain West Conference foes Colorado State and UNLV by a combined score of 66-32 the past two weeks. If there’s a team in the country that’s not undefeated but should be, it is probably the Aggies.
A defensive showdown is brewing, considering the Cougars are No. 5 in the country in total defense, allowing just 226.6 yards per game, and the Aggies are No. 11, giving up just 280.8 ypg. Utah State has been better offensively than BYU, however, ranking 40th in total offense. BYU is 64th.
Also, USU’s offense ranks 32 places higher than any other offense the BYU defense has faced, and Aggie sophomore Chuckie Keeton will likely be the best quarterback the Cougars will face, with the possible exception of Oregon State’s Sean Mannion.
As far as BYU’s quarterback situation goes, expect the same routine as last week: Coaches will probably decide on the starter — the recovering Nelson or freshman Taysom Hill — around Wednesday, but won’t announce it until game day.
If Nelson does play, there will be fewer designed runs for him, Mendenhall hinted last Friday.
“What we do know is that if he plays like we had been playing, [his sore back] won’t get better,” Mendenhall said. “If anything, it will get worse. So whether one week [off] will be enough for it to improve, or not, we don’t really know that. It might be two weeks. But we have been told that it will improve with rest. So that’s what we are doing.”
As for BYU’s progression through five games, Mendenhall said the defense has been rock solid but can improve, the special teams up and down and the offense mostly subpar.
“Even though Hawaii was struggling, [the win] was a positive thing for our program and we needed it, especially offensively, to see some success, and to evaluate some of the changes that we’ve made. Hopefully those will continue to show as we move forward,” he said.
Where BYU ranks nationally
Category National Rank Actual
Total offense 64th 402.0 ypg.
Scoring offense 55th 29.8 ppg.
Total defense 5th 226.6 ypg.
Scoring defense 4th 10.0 ppg.