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BYU football: Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall emphasizes winning bowl games

SAN FRANCISCO — BYU arrived here Sunday in preparation for the Fight Hunger Bowl, and the Cougars are looking to continue their bowl winning streak.

BYU has won four consecutive bowl games, dating back to 2009. Overall, under coach Bronco Mendenhall, the Cougars are 6-2 in the postseason.

BYU takes on Washington Friday (7:30 p.m. MST, ESPN) at AT&T Park in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

The Cougars' bowl record the past eight years is even more impressive considering they posted a 7-15-1 mark in bowl games prior to Mendenhall becoming the head coach.

To what does Mendenhall attribute the bowl success?

“Emphasis,” he said. “There’s a choice most of us make. Is it a reward? Or is it a proving ground? If you can do both, great. You’d love to see the players have a great time and then have them be mature enough when it comes time to work that they then switch gears. I probably erred on the side of proving ground rather than reward. Whether that’s appreciated during the time, I don’t know. Hopefully it is when they leave to have good memories in their last game. We’ve won six of eight, but we haven’t won eight of eight. I’ve made it clear I want to win the game — for the program and for them.”

When Mendenhall was going through the process of extending his contract during the offseason, his bowl success was certainly a selling point in his favor.

Asked this week if he’s proud of his bowl record, Mendenhall responded, “I am.”

For seniors like JD Falslev, who have never tasted defeat in a bowl game, maintaining the bowl streak is very important.

“We haven’t forgotten about it — just to carry on the tradition of BYU,” said the wide receiver/kick return specialist. “BYU is not a team that just goes to bowl games to go. We go to win. We’re excited for that. We’re excited to play well — hopefully to put a full game together. I don’t feel like we’ve done that all year. We haven’t played a game where all three sides of the ball have gone well. We’re excited for another chance to do that.”

Sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill, playing in the first bowl of his career, is also eager to finish the season on a strong note.

“We’ve had a couple of disappointing losses this year,” he said. “But we’ve been in every football game. We’ve had chances to win every game. It will give us another opportunity to play a very quality opponent in Washington. They’re a great football team. I’m really antsy to go out and win this football game, to prove that we can win close games against a quality opponent.”

Mendenhall has developed a bowl preparation model that has proven results. It involves giving players a chance to rest and heal up, followed by limited practice sessions. The Cougars will hold just six practices before meeting the Huskies.

“It’s giving our guys time off, getting them fresh again, getting them back in the weight room so they can get their strength and conditioning back,” said outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga, who also played in a couple of bowl victories as a Cougar. “Really, it’s just time off. I think a lot of people on the outside complain about that. But we use it to our advantage, getting guys fresh and healthy again.”

One of the keys to BYU’s bowl success, according to senior defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna, is enjoying the bowl experience, but taking the game seriously.

“It’s a week of activities and having fun with family and friends,” he said. “The focus when we need to play football and practice — the shift we need to make — has gone a lot better since I’ve been here with bowl experience. When it’s time to play football, it’s time to play football. When there’s time off, we need to take that time to prepare as well. When there’s time for activities and being with your families, then you can have those times. But there’s a distinction between when we need to switch on to play football and switch off to have fun and relax is a big key.”