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Provo • There were several low points for the BYU football team last year after star quarterback Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending leg injury in the second quarter of the fifth game, against Utah State.
Clearly, though, the 25-point loss at Boise State on Oct. 24 represented rock bottom. The Cougars started slowly on offense, looked helpless on defense, gave up the most points (55) and the most yards (637) in the Bronco Mendenhall era and made Boise quarterback Grant Hedrick look like Joe Montana. It was their fourth-straight loss after a 4-0 start.
Things would be different in 2015 when the Broncos returned the visit to LaVell Edwards Stadium, the Cougars vowed, thinking they would have Hill back for his senior season and it would be the upstarts north of the border breaking in a young quarterback.
They were half right.
The Cougars play host to the No. 20-ranked Broncos and redshirt sophomore QB Ryan Finley making his second career start on Saturday at LES, but again Hill won't be under center for BYU, having undergone season-ending foot surgery on Friday.
True freshman Tanner Mangum will get his first career start after his Hail Mary pass to Mitch Mathews gave the Cougars a 33-28 upset win and a different post-Hill vibe over Nebraska last week.
"Good teams will take that event and use it as momentum for this game," Mathews said Monday. "To hang our hats on that one moment could ruin that moment if we don't win these next few games and have a mediocre season. No one remembers what happened if we lose now, right? I don't want to call it a miracle, but it is, right? We need to use that win in [Nebraska's] stadium as momentum to go in and beat Boise State."
The Cougars and Broncos were asked all week if this is a rivalry game, and there were mixed responses, some saying absolutely and others saying not so fast. Boise State leads the series 4-1, its only loss to the Cougars coming in Provo in 2013 when it committed four turnovers and BYU none. Hill threw for 339 yards and ran for 69 in that game.
Also mixed were the replies from the Cougars when asked if this is a revenge game, given last year's drubbing when Mendenhall wrested the defensive play-calling duties away from defensive coordinator Nick Howell, only to give them back the following week.
"Yeah, of course [it is about both rivalry and revenge]," Mathews said, perhaps forgetting about the 7-6 Boise State win in 2012 when the 12-game series began. "We beat them one year, and they beat us good the next year. Two years makes it an instant rival. Now we will see what we can do in year three."
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said he's not sure if BYU is a rival, but knows what a big win can do for a program, and also what Mangum can do despite his inexperience.
"We look at [BYU] as one of our very good opponents we have to play on a yearly basis. We know what type of team they are, and we know what type of team they've been," Harsin said. "I don't know if it is a rivalry game, but it is one of our big games each and every year."
Mendenhall said the keys to making sure 2014 doesn't repeat itself are winning the turnover and field-position battles.
For the Cougars to spring a mild upset they are three-point underdogs they must find a running game to take some pressure off Mangum. BYU rushed for 132 yards against Nebraska, but 72 came from Hill.
That will be difficult, because Boise State's defensive front is "just as good" as Nebraska's, offensive coordinator Robert Anae said.
"There hasn't been one [defensive weakness] that I've seen," Anae said of the Broncos. "So if you guys spot it, I am sure you are not going to point it out until after the game. The focus is to spot it before the game. But I don't see any weakness. They are solid, sound, they run hard to the ball, they tackle well. And they had a really impressive opener. So we look forward to a physical challenge and a game in our stadium."
No. 20 Boise State at BYU
P Kickoff • Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM and Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 1-0, Boise State 1-0
Series history • Boise State leads, 4-1
Last meeting • Boise State 55, BYU 30 (Oct. 24, 2014)
About the Cougars • Freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum will get his first career start after senior Taysom Hill suffered a foot injury in last week's 33-28 win over Nebraska and underwent season-ending surgery on Friday. … They are 7-3 in home openers under coach Bronco Mendenhall (91-39) and 57-32-1 in home openers since 1922. … They are 6-14 against ranked teams in Mendenhall's 11 seasons.
About the Broncos • They are 1-1 in Provo, having won 50-12 in 2003 and having lost 37-20 in 2013. … They are ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 24 in the Coaches Poll. … Their roster includes Utahns Tutulupeatau Mataele (Granger), Durrant Miles (Bingham) and Tennessee Suesue (East). … They held Washington to 179 yards in a 16-13 win over the Huskies last week.