PROVO — One step forward. Two steps back.
That pretty much sums up how it's been for the BYU football program the past few seasons. Just when it looks like the Cougars are about to get on a roll, they find a way to flounder.
BYU opened the 2004 campaign with a 20-17 victory over Notre Dame, only to suffer a humiliating 37-10 loss at Stanford seven days later. Then, last Friday, less than a week removed from an emotional 31-21 victory at Colorado State, the Cougars regressed once again, falling to UNLV, 24-20.
BYU (2-4 overall, 1-1 MWC) turned the ball over five times and squandered numerous opportunities to beat the Rebels.
Next up for the Cougars is Wyoming (4-1, 1-0), which is off to its best start in five years.
The Cowboys come to LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday (8 p.m.) fresh off a 20-10 victory over San Diego State.
BYU, on the other hand, is faced with a stark reality — it must win four of its final five games to avoid a third consecutive losing season. And if the Cougars continue playing like they did Friday against UNLV, count on another sub-.500 record.
While the BYU offense stumbled against UNLV, the Cougar defense had its moments. Linebacker Cameron Jensen recorded a game-high 12 tackles and had an interception that was returned 26 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, lifting the Cougars a 20-14 lead.
"It felt great at the time, but it sure doesn't mean much if you don't pull out the win," Jensen said.
Jensen's TD was BYU's first defensive touchdown since Colby Bockwoldt scored on a 13-yard fumble return against San Diego State last season. It was the first interception returned for a touchdown since Jon Burbidge took a pick 80 yards for a score against New Mexico two years ago.
What concerns Jensen is his team's defensive lapses against UNLV, including a 46-yard catch-and-run by the Rebels' Alvin Marshall. On the following play, quarterback Kurt Nantkes connected with wide receiver Earvin Johnson for a 27-yard touchdown.
"We gave up some big plays and you can't do that," Jensen said. "We're not satisfied. Our defense wants to take over this league. We feel we can. That's our goal. To have them come out and score like they did, no matter what position we're put in, is unacceptable. We need to work on that and make a stop every time."
While the Cougar offense has put the defense in tough situations due to an inordinate number of turnovers, Jensen says that's irrelevant.
"We can't let that affect us. Of course you don't want to see them fumble the ball. But that doesn't matter to us," he said. "Our job is to stop them and not let them score. I almost love those positions. It's a challenge to our defense. It's a challenge to myself. If they get the ball on the 15, it means we have to play that much harder. It's disappointing that they drove the ball on us a couple of times. That's what's frustrating."