FORT WORTH, Texas — Remember back in the day when former TCU football coach Gary Patterson was so determined to beat then-Mountain West Conference rival BYU that he would put BYU football helmets on blocking sleds and dummies as early as January to get the Horned Frogs fired up to face the Cougars in October?

Well, nothing of that sort is going on in and around Amon G. Carter Stadium this year, but that doesn’t mean the Cougars (1-1, 4-1) don’t expect anything but the best from the struggling Frogs (1-2, 3-3) on Saturday when once-hated BYU rolls into the Metroplex.

“They are going to come out extremely motivated, maybe a little bit desperate. … It is going to be like this every week in the Big 12. We signed up for this.” — BYU special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga

Kickoff for the pivotal Big 12 contest is at 1:30 p.m. MDT. ESPN will televise the game.

“Back then, it was TCU, BYU and Utah,” said BYU special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga, a former Cougar linebacker and linebackers coach under Bronco Mendenhall. “You knew you had to beat those guys to contend for a championship. Same thing now. This year is similar. They are going to come out extremely motivated, maybe a little bit desperate. … It is going to be like this every week in the Big 12. We signed up for this.”

How will BYU come out? 

The Cougars have talked all week about being ready for TCU’s speed and athleticism, and what it will take to avoid being rusty. They haven’t played in 14 days, having downed Cincinnati 35-27 on Sept. 29.

Cougars focused on their sluggish run game during bye week. Will it get going against TCU?
‘A big personality’: Why TCU coach Sonny Dykes enjoys being around Kalani Sitake, a ‘close friend’

“It is hard to win at home in the Big 12, and I know it is even harder to win on the road,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “We are seeking our first Big 12 road victory. So hopefully we can get that done against a really talented team. We have a lot of respect for them. We want to give them our best shot. We know we will get theirs, and we will just live with the results after that.”

Sitake said the “battle is guys coming out flat,” so the Cougars upped their physicality in practices and went back to fundamentals and technique.

“We want to be in a better position (than they were at Kansas three weeks ago) and not put ourselves behind on the scoreboard,” Sitake said. “If it does happen, we know we can fight back from it. But we are trying to play a good, clean 60 minutes, and that starts from the first snap.”

Poppinga hopes the Cougars rekindle the magic of 2006, when he was in his first year at BYU and helped his teammates knock off the Frogs 31-17 on a Thursday night in Fort Worth in front of 32,190 to snap their 13-game winning streak. 

BYU downed TCU 27-22 the following year in Provo — Poppinga was named Mountain West defensive player of the week for his role in the victory — but hasn’t downed the Frogs since.

In 2008, TCU got revenge with a 32-7 drubbing, snapping then-No. 9 BYU’s 16-game winning streak. In 2009, it was 38-7 for TCU at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and in 2010, BYU’s last year in the MWC, the Jake Heaps-led Cougars absorbed a 31-3 beatdown at the hands of No. 4 TCU.

In other words, Patterson’s motivational techniques paid off, and then some.

This year, gentlemanly coach Sonny Dykes has more to worry about than previous losses to BYU. He led TCU to the 2022 national championship game in his first year in Fort Worth. BYU is pretty much just another league game for the Frogs now.

It will probably take a Cougars’ win, and their fans taking over the stadium as they’ve been known to do in the Metroplex in the past, for any of that old animosity to resurface.

Also, Dykes has spent the week preparing a new starting quarterback, Josh Hoover, after opening-game starter Chandler Morris left the 27-14 loss at Iowa State last week with a knee injury.

Poppinga, who also oversees BYU’s edge rushers, has been telling his guys all week about past games when backups rose up and surprised the Cougars, such as in 2012 when “maybe one of the best defenses ever in BYU history” was beaten by Oregon State fill-in QB Cody Vaz.

“Oregon State’s NFL-bound quarterback (Sean Mannion) gets hurt. Some backup guy we had never even heard of comes in here and slings it for 400 yards,” Poppinga said. “We can’t relax. We gotta take it to this guy, make sure he doesn’t get comfortable throughout the game. … He is a good player. Watching his high school film and the reps he has had this year, he is a talented thrower. Maybe not quite the athlete that the other guy is.”

How an FBI tip helped bring LJ Martin to BYU
Riley Nelson’s hilarious high-five vs. TCU was actually no laughing matter

Poppinga and defensive coordinator Jay Hill both said the key for BYU will be to contain Emani Bailey, TCU’s outstanding junior running back. He’s put up 690 yards so far.

“Maybe the best (RB) we will see all year,” Poppinga said. “So we gotta stop the run game, hold him in check, make (Hoover) uncomfortable.”

Another issue at play is the fact that it will be a day game. Don’t laugh — the Cougars are 19-1 in their past 20 night games (kickoffs after 5 p.m.). They are 1-4 in their last five day games against Power Five opponents, and even worse if you count that (41-14) loss to Liberty last year while the sun shone brightly in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Sitake, Hill and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick all brushed it off as more of a coincidence than anything else, but the best way the Cougars can show it isn’t a thing is to go out and upset the Frogs, favored by five points.

“Do we make a big deal of it with our players? Absolutely not,” Hill said. “I don’t put any stock in that because the reality is no matter when you kick off, you better be ready to go.”

Hill said BYU’s record is better in night games because most of them are played in Provo.

Cougars on the air

BYU (1-1, 4-1)
at TCU (1-2, 3-3)
Oct. 14, 1:30 p.m. MDT
Amon G. Carter Stadium
(Capacity: 50,000)
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

“I have mentioned this before: One of my favorite things is to go on the road and play on the road,” Hill said. “We get an opportunity to do it against a really good team, and I can’t wait.”

Roderick said he didn’t even know about the day-night success disparity until someone asked him about it last week.

“Maybe we need to think about it,” he surmised.

Then he mentioned how great it will be to play a day game on grass.

“When I coached with Andy Ludwig (at Utah) we used to joke about how rare it is to play a day game on grass,” Roderick said. “Usually you don’t get both. So we are excited about it.”

TCU running back Emani Bailey (9) in the second half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. Stopping the talented back will be job one for BYU’s defense. | David Zalubowski, Associated Press