BOISE — With dreams of an undefeated season dashed last Saturday night at Utah, BYU is now looking to avoid a two-game losing streak.
The Cougars invade Bronco Stadium on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN) to battle No. 24 Boise State.
Can BYU shake off the disappointment of falling to its arch-rival, and right the ship against the Broncos?
"We don't have a choice, we have to bounce back because as bad as that loss felt, you don't want to experience it again," said linebacker Spencer Hadley. "So you can sit there and mope about it and complain and basically flush your season down the toilet, or you can bounce back and attack this next week like you ought to and turn things around."
A victory against Boise State certainly would be a huge step in the right direction.
"It would be a good confidence-builder. They're a great team," Hadley said. "It would really help us set the tone again, and remind us that we have a lot of football left to play, a lot of great teams on the schedule. Right now, it's Boise State. A win against Boise, I think, would be exactly what we need right now."
For the Cougars to reach their goal of playing in a BCS game, they need to go unbeaten. A perfect season is now off the table, but quarterback Riley Nelson said his team will continue to fight every week.
"It is a magical thing to go undefeated in college football. Very few teams get to do it. Even last year's national champions lost a game. The way college football is playing out, I'd be surprised if there's an undefeated team this year. We'll keep battling. Not all is lost — 12 and 1 is a pretty darn good record and we still got a chance at that. And that's what we're striving for."
What makes Thursday's challenge even tougher is the quick turnaround — BYU has had only two days to prepare for Boise State. Will the Cougars be ready physically and emotionally?
"Physically, I bet eventually we'll get there for Thursday," Nelson said. "You know they are a big, physical team. Utah was a big, physical team. Your bumps and bruises probably won't quite be healed, but the adrenaline kicks in and you do fine. You'd like to be fresh, but it's psychological. It's the fourth week of the season and very few people are fresh now … For (Boise State), it's a short week, too. They're dealing with the same thing we are. Hopefully we can play some good football on Thursday."
To have any chance of knocking off the Broncos, BYU will have to play much cleaner than it did against the Utes. Last Saturday, the Cougars had two costly turnovers, trouble with the center-quarterback exchange, seven false start penalties and a pair of missed field goals at the end that prevented the game from going into overtime.
Then there's the fact that Boise State has the best home-winning percentage in the nation since the start of the 2000 season with a record of 75-3. The Broncos don't lose often on their trademark Blue Turf.
"Anytime you travel and you go into a place like Boise State, that Blue Turf, I mean, it's going to be something that we're going to have to adjust to," said backup quarterback Taysom Hill, who is a native of Pocatello, Idaho. "It's an advantage for them. They get to play on their home field. But it's not something we're unfamiliar with, especially after Utah. We had a few false start penalties against us. That's something we'll iron out and be ready for on Thursday."
Boise State coach Chris Petersen said he is expecting BYU to be at its best on Thursday.
"Those guys are going to play very hard. That was a hard-fought game they played in. Utah-BYU is an intense rivalry. I know BYU is going to show up and play as hard as they've ever played, if not harder. That's the kind of guys they have there. I know what kind of coach Bronco is. There will be no drop-off, I know that."