One maxim that Brigham Young Cougars head coach Bronco Mendenhall lives by is to treat every game the same. Next week’s Poinsettia Bowl, however, is not just like any other game, and should be treated differently.
Mendenhall has explained that this maxim means every week he is going to do all that he can do to win each game. As he prepares for BYU’s bowl date with San Diego State, Mendenhall needs to prepare differently in a few ways if he is going to honestly say he did all he could do for the Cougars to defeat the Aztecs.
Every game is inherently different from all others because no two opponents are exactly alike. If Mendenhall does not take notice of what makes San Diego State different from the other opponents BYU has faced this year, then the Cougars will probably lose this game.
First, probably nobody in college football knows Mendenhall better than San Diego State head coach Rocky Long. Mendenhall was one of Long’s assistant coaches at New Mexico. Long continued to face Mendenhall every year from 2003 to 2010 as his teams played BYU in conference. Familiarity is always an asset in college football. Long knows Mendenhall's tendencies and what is going through his mind. Long can use that familiarity to help his offensive staff prepare a successful game plan to attack the stout BYU defense.
Mendenhall needs to plan a few unexpected calls on defense to surprise Long and his staff. Whether it is to blitz on first down rather than third down, or play man coverage as opposed to zone, Mendenhall has to make two or three calls on defense in the first two or three drives to confuse San Diego State and make them second guess for the rest of the game.
Second, it isn’t just the head coaches who have a history together. BYU and San Diego State go back long before either coach’s career had started. This 30-plus year history has built up a lot of vitriol on the Aztec side. Some of the reasons for this were detailed on this site last Tuesday. Clearly, this is not “just another game” for San Diego State.
The BYU coaching staff has to prepare their players for this. They need to be mentally ready. San Diego State is going to come out swinging. BYU has to be expecting it and be prepared to take those punches. Whatever weaknesses appear to show up on the film probably won’t be found next Thursday. BYU will have to have very high execution and play very clean from the get go. To fail to do this could result in this game starting similar to the San Jose State game when BYU got into a hole that was too deep to dig out of.
Besides the opponent, this game is also different than almost every other game this season because it is a bowl game. Each team has had three to four weeks to prepare. There is no excuse to come out flat and look unprepared for the game.
In Mendenhall’s case, a poor showing, or even a poor start, would be bad. He has come under pressure this season for some of the decisions he has made and the results on the field. Behind the scenes, boosters are certainly putting pressure on the BYU athletic department. BYU needs a win or the discontent will grow—it will be a long offseason and the pressure for 2013 will be immense.
A win gives BYU an eight win season. The difference between seven and eight wins in college football is huge. No matter what bad happens during the year, in the end, fans and boosters can usually tolerate it if the team wins eight games. It wouldn’t be a great season, but not an awful one. Mendenhall and his staff will have a lot less distractions this offseason if they don’t have to answer questions about bouncing back from a 7-6 season.
Mendenhall and the Cougars do need to give everything they can to prepare for this game and play their best once the game kicks off. They cannot think that this is going to be just another game. It has a lot riding on it, and not just for the perception of the 2012 season. The opponent will be on an emotional high and probably play its best game. BYU’s game prep needs to account for added incentive and emotion for the opponent, which wasn’t the case for several other games this season.
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