I really don’t think anybody on this team is satisfied. We want to be undefeated and that’s only one win. It only counts as one. – Wide receiver Jordan Leslie
PROVO — It’s a one-game season.
That’s No. 25 BYU’s mantra, and, just days after a dominating 41-7 victory at Texas, it certainly applies as the Cougars host the Houston Cougars Thursday (7 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
BYU (2-0) garnered plenty of national exposure after whipping the Longhorns and leaping into the national rankings for the first time in two years. Pundits are weighing BYU's odds of playing in one of the so-called New Year’s Six bowls, and are seriously considering quarterback Taysom Hill as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
But the reality is, BYU is facing a Houston (1-1) team that it barely beat last season at Reliant Stadium, 47-46, in a wild shootout. BYU is guarding against a letdown on a short week after an impressive performance at Texas.
BYU knows it can’t get too far ahead of itself. A loss Thursday would severely diminish that accomplishment in Austin.
“I really don’t think anybody on this team is satisfied. We want to be undefeated and that’s only one win. It only counts as one,” said wide receiver Jordan Leslie. “Even though we might think it counts as three because it was such a big win, against such a great team, it only counts as one. We need to get ready for the next team and we can’t be too satisfied.”
BYU’s mental strength coach, Craig Manning, has emphasized with the players the importance of keeping focused on the task at hand.
“We talked about having a special season during the offseason,” said safety Dallin Leavitt. “But now it’s more focused on something we’ve been working on with Craig Manning about staying in the moment, and this week we need to beat Houston. Once we beat Houston, we can worry about the next game. We need to beat Houston. It’s a one-game season every week.”
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said Houston is the ideal opponent to play this week because of the challenge it posed for his team a year ago.
“Man, that was an exhausting game right to the very end,” Mendenhall said. “We didn’t come close to stopping them. We scored a number of times and we had to intercept the ball to win. We know we have our hands full.”
Said running back Adam Hine, who scored a pair of touchdowns against the Longhorns, “We are taking it a game at a time. We’re focused on a very good Houston team that’s going to come after us. … We’re preparing hard like it’s the Super Bowl. … Our focus is to beat Houston.”
At Texas last Saturday, BYU held a tenuous 6-0 advantage at halftime before exploding for 28 points in the third quarter to take command of the game. BYU handed Texas its worst home loss since UCLA beat the Longhorns 66-3 in 1997.
What was the difference in the second half?
Mendenhall said after the game that “significant changes” were made at intermission, but refused to elaborate, adding that “from the minute we came in at halftime, we did things we hadn’t done before. When we came out at halftime we did things we’d never done before.”
When asked about those changes, Leavitt offered this explanation: “Craig Manning is a lot more involved with our team now. A lot of our guys work with him individually, and I do, too. He has made a huge difference on our team. He talks about our energy levels, being able to keep them low, then right before the game being able to bring them up and being excited. When we come in for halftime, it’s being able to rejuvenate, taking our pads off and getting ready for the second half. We try to treat it like two different games.”
BYU players say they aren’t going to take anything for granted.
“We are on the right track, but we need to stay hungry,” Leavitt said. “Every game is going to be a tough game and it’s college football and anybody can beat anybody. We’re excited to play everybody.”
Safety Craig Bills acknowledged that he and his teammates are happy about the season so far, but there’s plenty of work yet to do.
“We had two good victories but we still have a ton to work on,” Bills said. “We’re looking forward to Houston and it’s another opportunity to get that recognition and get another win. … We’re really taking it as a one-game season.”