Thanks to a high-powered offense and a stingy defense, the Cougars are off to a 4-0 start at home this season. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- Playing in one of the most amazing settings for a college football game, BYU has long been known for its high-powered offense and tremendous home-field advantage. Over the past few years, however, the Cougars have struggled to win on a consistent basis on their home field. This year, however, that trend appears to be changing.
Within memory for many Cougar fans, BYU has notched victories over the likes of Arizona State, Kansas State, Texas, Miami, Penn State, Texas A&M, Washington, California, Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame--just to name a few.
During the LaVell Edwards era, (1972-2000) the Cougars had a double-digit scoring advantage against visiting opponents over a span of 20 different seasons. From 1976 through 1996, the Cougars outscored opponents by an average of 19.15 points per game. In 1979, BYU won home games by a record average of 34.2 points per game. Nine years later--in 1988--the Cougars were still beating visiting teams by over 32 points.
After posting a 6-0 record at LaVell Edwards Stadium in 2001, BYU averaged under three home victories per season over the next four seasons. In 2003, BYU went 1-5 in Provo, marking the worst home record since 1968.
Through the 80's and 90's, capacity crowds of 65,000 were not uncommon. From 2002 through the 2005 season, attendance dropped from an average of 62,176 to 58,204. While still leading the Mountain West Conference, average attendance dropped at an average rate of 1,300 fans per season.
When BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall took over the reigns of a struggling football program last season, one of his main priorities was to re-establish the Cougars' home field dominance.
"You need only look at who this stadium is named after, LaVell Edwards, and you become very aware of the tradition of this place," Mendenhall told his players shortly after taking over the program in 2005. "There have been many great players who have dedicated themselves over the years to a winning tradition here. Great teams--championship teams--win at home. If we're going to be a championship team, we have to change the way we go about our business at home. We have to change our mindset--we don't lose games at home."
In his first season as head coach, Mendenhall led the Cougars to a 3-3 record at home. Obviously, he wasn't satisfied. Players weren't satisfied. Fans weren't satisfied.
"The sky is the limit for this team, BYU quarterback John Beck said. "A lot of these guys have been through some tough lessons here in past seasons. The things we've experienced have made us tougher. We remember those times. They won't happen again."
This season, BYU is off to a 4-0 start at home. With Saturday's victory over UNLV, the Cougars are guaranteed their first winning home record since the 2002 season. Are the Cougars content? Is Mendenhall ready to sit back and rest on this year's success?
"I'm pleased with the direction of our program, Mendenhall said. "But, we're not satisfied."
Not only are the Cougars winning at home these days; they're dominating and doing it in a way that reminds Cougar faithful of the good 'ol days. As a result, fans are returning to Edwards Stadium on game day.
Through four games this season, BYU has outscored its opponents by an average of 34.5 points per game, marking the highest home margin of victory in BYU history. The Cougars currently rank third in the country in home scoring margin.
In their 2006 home-opener, BYU pummeled defending Conference USA Champion Tulsa by 25 points, 49-24. Two weeks later, the Cougars posted their first home shutout since 1998, blanking Utah State 38-0. On October 7, BYU registered a 30-point victory over San Diego State, routing the Aztecs 47-17. On Saturday, the Cougars notched their most dominating victory of the season, handing UNLV a 45-point loss, 52-7.
"I don't know if there is no turning back," Mendenhall admitted after Saturday's game against UNLV. "My nature is just one game at a time and to improve our team each week. We can still improve; there's no question."
The Cougars' home-field dominance this year is due in large part to the team's ability to put points on the board early, quickly dashing the confidence of visiting teams. Over four home games, BYU is outscoring its opponents 58-3 in the first quarter of play. By halftime, the Cougars are enjoying an average 23.3-point lead. Averaging over 475 yards of total offense per game, the Cougars are not only winning big at home, but doing it in a way that holds true to Mendenhall's dedication to restoring the tradition of the BYU football program.
"I prefer to think of the Marine strategy of guarding the wall, "Mendenhall said. "Someone's always on watch to make sure that we hold on to what we have and then work to gain more ground the next day."
And what about attendance? Fans are returning to Edwards Stadium on game day at an average of 2,238 fans per game. The Cougars opened against Tulsa on September 9 with 56,627 in attendance. Two weeks later, 58,659 fans came to Edwards Stadium to watch the Cougars' victory over Utah State. On October 7 (against San Diego State), attendance went up to 60,804. Saturday, attendance reached a season-high with 63,341 fans--704 shy of a sellout.
After a trip to Air Force this weekend and a trip to Colorado State on November 4, the Cougars return to Edwards Stadium on November 9 to take on Wyoming on national television. The final home game will be on November 18 against New Mexico.
"Nothing needs to be said to this team," running back Curtis Brown said. "The guys know what needs to be done to keep winning. And they want to win."