For all their football success the last half-century, the BYU Cougars have amazingly never started consecutive seasons with a 3-0 record.
The last time they did that was in the 1951 and 1952 seasons, when they beat Idaho State, Western State and Hawaii in 1951 before falling 7-6 to Utah and when they beat San Diego Naval Air Station, New Mexico and Montana in 1952 before losing 34-6 to the Utes.
Of course, after knocking off their rivals 26-17 on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, the freshly ranked No. 23 Cougars (2-0) can make history this weekend with a win over No. 19 Arizona State (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN) in Week 3.
It’s a “difficult matchup,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said Monday in his weekly press briefing, because the Sun Devils (2-0) are every bit as talented and physical as Utah was, perhaps more so.
“They have tons of athletes and size and playmaking ability in a lot of different places,” Sitake said.
As every BYU fan knows, the Cougars not only started 3-0 last year, they went 9-0 before losing at Coastal Carolina in a game scheduled two days before it was played.
According to Cougarstats.com, BYU has started the season 2-0 19 times over the last 50 seasons and started 3-0 10 times. Before last year, BYU’s last 3-0 start was in 2014, and before that in 2008.
But the Cougars didn’t begin the season with three Power Five/Pac-12 opponents those years. If they become the first team to post back-to-back 3-0 starts since 1952, they will have earned it.
Over the last 50 seasons, BYU has started the season 2-0 19 times. They've finished the season with an average record of 9.7-3.1— CougarStats (@CougarStats) September 13, 2021
They've had a 3-0 start 10 times during that span and finished with an average record 10.1-2.5.
“They have a really dynamic quarterback that causes a lot of problems,” Sitake said. “Jayden Daniels is a really, really good player. He has a lot of poise. He just seems like a veteran right now, and he is surrounded by a physical, athletic offensive line, good tight ends that can block and catch, and a number of skill players at running back and receiver that have tons of athleticism and speed.”
Arizona State is a 2-point favorite, having routed Southern Utah 41-14 and UNLV 37-10 in consecutive home games to start the season.
BYU was well-prepared to beat Arizona 24-16 and Utah by two scores for the first time since 1996, but the Cougars’ challenge this week will be to duplicate that same energy, enthusiasm and effort in preparation for a team it hasn’t faced at home since 1998, Sitake said.
If there’s ever a week that BYU will have to fight off a letdown in intensity, it is this one.
“That was different than any other week that we have seen, and I have to give credit to the coaches, the assistant coaches and to the leadership on our team,” Sitake said, noting that even last Friday’s announcement that BYU is joining the Big 12 didn’t become a distraction. “We are going to try to get that rolling again times two and do it a second time.”
Offensive lineman James Empey said having a ranked, Power Five program visit will help the Cougars refocus, as opposed to having a drop-off in competition that usually occurs later in the season for BYU in its 11 seasons as a college football independent.
BYU fans stormed the field after the first win over Utah since 2009 as if they had just won the national championship, and the celebrating lasted well into the night. Even Sitake admitted he was emotionally exhausted after the celebration.
“Just talking to the guys, Saturday was so much fun, but winning that game isn’t our end goal,” Empey said Monday. “We have 10 more games to battle, especially this one this week. I think guys are already turning their focus to ASU and are looking forward to that game. We are super excited about it. They have been great on film so far. It is going to be a great challenge and we are excited to get rolling this week and start working our butts off.”
In his Monday news conference, ASU coach Herm Edwards said BYU is a “very sound team” and a “very, very good football team” and called BYU quarterback Jaren Hall a “wow guy.”
Edwards said the atmosphere at LES in Provo “is what you want to experience as a football team” and said the Sun Devils will need to be ready to play all four quarters against the Cougars.
“Being able to play that caliber of a team this early is great for us,” Empey said. “We get a ton of learning, a ton of great competition, chances to improve and grow and in moments like this check out the film and do what you can do better to prepare for the next one. We are excited for this challenge. They got a ton of talent, they play really hard, and they are a physical team. We are excited to step up to the plate for the next challenge and hopefully keep this thing rolling.”
BYU running back Lopini Katoa said the Cougars were driven to improve the week before the rivalry game because they “didn’t play our best football” against Arizona.
“We weren’t satisfied with how we played, and so that same mindset has to stay with us this week,” Katoa said. “We still haven’t played our best football, even though we are 2-0. That’s what our goal really is, just competing against ourselves to improve.”
And to get that elusive 3-0 record.