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BYU football: Cougars look to bounce back vs. No. 15 Texas Saturday

BYU enters Scott Stadium at the University of Virginia. The Cougars will face the Texas Longhorns in Provo this Saturday
BYU enters Scott Stadium at the University of Virginia. The Cougars will face the Texas Longhorns in Provo this Saturday
Mark A. Philbrick, BYU photo

PROVO — Yes, Virginia broke BYU’s heart Saturday.

But the Cougars, who fell to the Cavaliers, 19-16, don’t have much time to feel sorry for themselves — they host No. 15 Texas this Saturday (5 p.m. MDT, ESPN2).

For BYU, it’s time to bounce back.

“We don’t have any choice. Texas is a good opponent,” said senior linebacker Spencer Hadley. “There’s no sulking. You have the plane ride home, but that’s about it. Maybe a little bit (Sunday). You’ve got to refocus and come back Monday ready to work.”

And there is plenty of work to do, particularly for an offense that had a bunch of penalties, turnovers and missed opportunities.

After taking the lead late in the fourth quarter, the Cougars relinquished a 16-12 advantage and watched Virginia pull out a hard-fought victory amid wet, sloppy conditions at Scott Stadium.

“We were short when it counted,” said offensive coordinator Robert Anae. “We have an opportunity to use this and get a little better feel for who we are. We’re still searching for an identity. You get taxed in ways in a close game on the road. I do believe we’ll be able to grow from this.”

Meanwhile, Texas is coming off a dominating 56-7 rout of New Mexico State last Saturday. In that game, the Longhorns set a school record of 715 yards of total offense, despite a slow start.

Texas trailed 7-0 late in the second quarter before quarterback David Ash threw four touchdown passes (54, 66, 74 and 25 yards, respectively) and ran for a 55-yard score.

One subplot to Saturday’s showdown is Texas offensive tackle Desmond Harrison, a junior college transfer that didn’t become eligible to play until a couple of weeks ago.

Harrison took and passed a BYU Independent Study course, but BYU officials did not allow the credit to count because the school only gives permission for its own student-athletes to enroll in its online classes. However, the NCAA ruled in Texas’ favor, making Harrison eligible.

Harrison entered the game during the third series against New Mexico State and rotated in at left tackle throughout the contest. He sustained cramps in the second half.

“I'm sure the anxiety of playing in front of 100,000 people for the first time and the heat and not being out there very much had an effect,” said Texas coach Mack Brown of Harrison. “He is fine, and this should really help him going into next week."

Saturday will mark Texas’ second trip to Provo. The first appearance was in 1988, when the Cougars crushed the Longhorns, 47-6.

The last meeting between the two teams was in 2011 in Austin, Texas, where Texas edged BYU, 17-16, after rallying from a 13-3 halftime deficit.

While the Longhorns are looking to rejoin college football’s elite programs this season, the Cougars are hoping to avoid an 0-2 start. BYU has never dropped its first two games of any season under coach Bronco Mendenhall.

“Certainly, no one is more disappointed that I am,” he said after Saturday’s setback. “The team is hurt right now. It’s a great chance to discover who we’re going to be and how we’re going to be going forward. It will take a day or two. This one wasn’t an easy one. Another significant test coming, which is what this season will be. There is a sense of urgency, but there also has to be time to recover from this one. That’s how we’ll approach it.”

Last season, BYU lost four games by a total of 13 points. But Mendenhall said despite another close loss, he had a “completely different” feeling after Saturday’s game.

“I actually thought we were gaining momentum. Then … it just flipped. We were in control of the game and getting ready to separate. That, to me, was a completely different feeling than I felt last year.”

Now, the Cougars will have to put the disappointment behind them and prepare for a nationally ranked team in their home opener.

“Texas is good. I haven’t looked at their film yet,” Hadley said Saturday night. “That’s the beauty of this game. You either learn to bounce back from stuff like this or you won’t succeed. You just learn that you don’t have a choice. We’ll come back Monday, work hard and get after it this next weekend.”