BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy had one word to describe how he felt in the wake of an important season-opening win over Ole Miss.
"I'm sore," he said in a telephone interview.
No rest for the newly independent Cougars, as they hit the road once gain for another huge test, this time in Austin against Texas. BYU played an incredibly physical game against Ole Miss, rallying for the 14-13 win when Van Noy forced a fumble, scooped it up and scored in the fourth quarter. Soreness, bumps and bruises are all part of college football, but BYU is playing on a different level now with an incredibly challenging schedule to start the season.
There is no easing into the slate. After the Texas game, BYU has Utah, UCF and Utah State at home. But BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said starting out with such a tough grind at Ole Miss is good for his team.
"It was a long trip in terms of distance," he said. "It was a formidable environment to play in against a team from a very good conference, and yet it also left our team realizing this is exactly what type of schedule we’re going to play. These are the types of teams we’re going to play and it’s going to take some improvement for the results we’re hopeful for."
Indeed, BYU did not play its best game. The new offense, with Brandon Doman as offensive coordinator, had some struggles. Jake Heaps was inconsistent, going 24-of-38 for 225 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The running game never really got established. BYU averaged 2.9 yards a carry. But perhaps the biggest problem was an inability to convert drives into points, something the Cougars emphasized this week during practice.
"I think we moved the ball pretty well; we just couldn't finish at the end of our drives," said receiver Ross Apo, who had four catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. "We can move the ball pretty good. We just need to work on finishing and putting seven on the board. It was little things here and there. Sometimes we just missed blocks. We just couldn't get our pass game going, got a couple here and there. We just have to execute better."
This game is particularly meaningful for Apo, who is from Texas and was a Texas commit before signing with BYU. He said Heaps was a big reason he changed his mind because the two attended several high school camps together. "When I weighed things out, I realized BYU was a better place for me," Apo said.
He will have family and friends at the game, but fully expects to be booed. He understands the emotions, but also wants to have a big game in his home state.
Everybody at BYU wants to have a big game with a national television audience watching once again. Following up a road win against an SEC team with a win against Texas would do wonders for national perception.
"We're looking at the same thing as last week," Van Noy said. "They’re the Big 12. They don’t want to lose to a bunch of kids in Utah, a bunch of Mormon boys that everyone calls us. We're going to try to take that challenge on. Going to Texas, they make football a religion, and we’re excited to go down there."
One of the huge positives coming out of the game is the way the BYU defense held up against a much bigger Ole Miss offensive line. Granted, Ole Miss starting running back Brandon Bolden got hurt early in the game, but the Cougars still held the Rebels to 64 yards rushing and just 208 yards of total offense. That gives the defense a huge lift heading into another big game.
"The goal is to ground and pound you until you can’t take the heat," Van Noy said. "We took that challenge on. Our front seven is one of the best in the country. The secondary is progressing and getting better and better and going to become one of the best in the country. We take a lot of defensive pride in stopping the run."
Now they have to do it all again on a stage that is just as big.