Now an FBS Independent, the BYU Cougars travel ranked Texas Longhorns, members of the Big 12 Conference.
The Cougars finished 7-6 overall and 5-3 in 2010, their final season as members of the Mountain West Conference. They also earned a sixth straight bowl invitation, and the quest for a seventh consecutive postseason invitation began successfully with a 14-13 victory over Ole Miss last weekend.
As for Texas, the 2010 season saw head coach Mack Brown's streak of 20 consecutive winning seasons (spanning his time at both North Carolina and Texas) come to an end. The Longhorns plummeted in the conference standings, finishing at the bottom of their division for the first time since 1956. The 2011 campaign did begin on a positive note for the 'Horns, however, as they stomped Rice by a 34-9 final.
BYU has won both of its previous series meetings with Texas, the most recent of which occurred in 1988.
The BYU offense returns every starter from a year ago except for right guard. Jake Heaps took over at quarterback three weeks into the 2010 season as a rookie, and he went on to break Ty Detmer's freshman school record for touchdown passes, along with a number of other records.
Heaps and the offense struggled mightily against Ole Miss for the first three quarters of last week's game, failing to score a single point through the first 50 minutes of the contest. Fortunately, Heaps was able to get the Cougars on the board with 9:52 remaining, as he hit Ross Apo with a 19-yard touchdown pass.
BYU finished with 316 total yards, including 225 yards from Heaps on 24-of-38 passing. He was intercepted once, marking the Cougars' only turnover of the tilt. JJ DiLuigi led the club in both rushing and receptions, totaling 88 combined yards.
The biggest play of last week's game versus Ole Miss was made by the BYU defense, as Van Noy recovered a fumble for a touchdown with just over five minutes left on the game clock. The ensuing extra point proved to be the margin of victory in the one-point thriller.
Overall, the effort of the BYU defense was tremendous, as the lone touchdown scored by the Rebels actually came from their defense. The Cougars permitted a mere 208 total yards, including 64 rushing yards on 29 attempts. A pair of takeaways helped the cause.
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall was asked about the experience his players are going to have playing in a hostile environment like Austin this weekend, "There is a lot of history and it will be a great experience for our players. I've been to Austin once as a player; I know BYU has been at least one time that I can remember. When you consider that in the world of who are the 'haves' and 'have nots' in college football in terms of the glitter and the budget, etc...you probably think of Texas and Oregon. It will be fun for our players to not only have heard of the things Texas has and their reputation and tradition, but to see that and measure themselves against the players and see if those things match."
Texas won its 12th straight season opener with the impressive performance against Rice. While the offense did struggle at many points last season, the fact that the Longhorns were able to rack up 506 yards of total offense against the Owls has to be viewed optimistically by fans of coach Brown's group.
Critics have been vocal in their disapproval of Garrett Gilbert as the quarterback of Texas, but he certainly looked more than capable of leading the team last weekend. Gilbert completed 13-of-23 passes for 239 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions against Rice. Mike Davis paced the 'Horns with 115 receiving yards on just three catches, while both Fozzy Whittaker and Jaxon Shipley hauled in touchdown receptions. Whittaker also rushed for a score in the win, and Malcolm Brown spearheaded the ground attack with 86 yards on 16 carries.
Rice had little success moving the ball against the stout defensive front of Texas. In fact, the Owls failed to reach the end zone in the tilt, settling for three field goals. The Longhorns yielded a mere 224 total yards and came up with a pair of takeaways. They permitted Rice to complete just 50 percent of its passes and held the Owls to 2-of-12 success on third down conversion attempts.
Coach Brown was certainly happy with the effort put forth by his defense, "On defense we were pleased with holding Rice to three field goals and no touchdowns. I felt like we did a great job on possession downs and in the red zone."
Emmanual Acho played quite well defensively for Texas, as he came up with 10 total tackles to pace the club. Carrington Byndum posted pair of TFLs, while teammate Jordan Hicks broke up two passes.