Bronco Mendenhall returns to Provo this weekend, as head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers. This will be his first official trip back to Provo since he left the program following the 2015 season.
BYU fans should be grateful to Mendenhall for his time with the Cougars. He ushered in a new era that BYU is still benefitting from to this day. He took over a program that had gone 14-21 in the final three seasons of the Gary Crowton era. He instantly turned the Cougars into a winner, going to a bowl game in his first year and then rattling off four straight double-digit win seasons including two Mountain West titles.
To commemorate his return, let’s dive into the best wins BYU football enjoyed with Mendenhall at the helm.
2006 Las Vegas Bowl vs. Oregon
John Beck, Curtis Brown and Jonny Harline all played their final game in a Cougar uniform in Vegas against the Ducks. BYU’s defense shut out Oregon through three quarters, only surrendering a score when BYU was already up 31-0. The Cougars silenced the barbed comments of Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti, who, prior to the game, questioned BYU’s worthiness to be on the same field as a team from the mighty PAC-10. The Cougars won 38-8.
2008 vs. UCLA
How often does a non-Power 5 team beat a Power 5 team 59-0? Only BYU has that honor. They took the Bruins out to the woodshed in Provo and pulverized UCLA, scoring 35 points in the second quarter alone. Max Hall threw seven touchdowns and Mendenhall’s defense pitched a shutout in a glorious blowout over a major opponent.
2013 vs. Texas
The 2014 version of the Cougars unleashing Taysom Hill on the Longhorns earns the spot over this one, since Texas should have known what was coming and they still couldn’t stop Hill on their home field. 2013’s version was incredibly fun and wonderfully unexpected. After losing a wet, discouraging game at Virginia (ironic, now), BYU ran for an incredible 550 yards on the Longhorns en route to a 40-21 victory over then-No. 15 Texas.
5. 2014 vs. Texas
As mentioned, the second consecutive meeting between the Longhorns and Cougars was slightly more impressive. First off, it was in Austin, where nearly 100,000 Texas fans crammed inside, seeking revenge on BYU from the beatdown they received the year before. Secondly, they should have known that Taysom Hill was looking to run wild on them again, as he did in Provo in 2013. Instead, Texas players, coaches, and fans, watched in horror as the nightmare recurred. Hill ran for 99 yards and three touchdowns, including the iconic leap over Texas defenders for one of his scores. Texas could do nothing but watch as BYU ran it up once more, along with forcing four Texas turnovers, winning a stunner in Austin, 41-7.
4. 2015 vs. Nebraska
The Cornhuskers are famous for their home game atmosphere. No one takes their season home opener as seriously as Nebraska. BYU came to Lincoln with the Huskers riding a whopping 29-game winning streak in season openers. BYU didn’t get the memo.
At first, it looked like Taysom Hill was set to begin yet another run at the Heisman Trophy. He passed for 268 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more before leaving the game with a season-ending Lisfranc injury. Enter Tanner Mangum.
The freshman was thrust into duty as BYU trailed 28-24 in the fourth quarter. The Cougars were able to get a field goal, cutting the deficit to one. The Huskers missed a field goal on the other end, giving BYU the ball with just 40 seconds left on their own 24 yard line. Mangum was able to navigate the offense down to the Nebraska 42 yard line with just one second left- much too long for a field goal.
Hail Mary time.
Mangum found Mitch Mathews at the edge of the end zone for a Hail Mary, game-winning touchdown against Nebraska. The catch sent the BYU sidelines into a frenzy, including Bronco, who ran around like a wild man released from a cage. Huskers fans left the stadium shell-shocked.
3. 2006 vs. TCU
For the first few seasons of the Mendenhall era, the Cougars lacked a signature win. They went into Fort Worth to take on the 3-0, No. 17-ranked TCU Horned Frogs. TCU entered the game with a 13-game winning streak, dating back to their 11-1 season in 2005 in which they won the Mountain West Conference title. Not only did BYU win, but the final score is not indicative of how dominant BYU was. At one point late in the fourth quarter, they were up 31-10.
John Beck passed for 321 yards and three scores and the defense forced three turnovers. BYU eventually won 31-17, marking their first win over a ranked team since 1999. This win also was the turning point of a new era of BYU football, as it spring-boarded them to an 11-2 record and their first conference title since 2001.
2. 2006 vs. Utah
This is simply known as “Beck to Harline.” BYU had lost to the Utes four years in a row. BYU entered the game ranked No. 21, hoping to seal an undefeated season in Mountain West play. Early in the fourth quarter, Utah held a 10-point lead at 24-14. Beck found Harline for a touchdown three times in the game. The second time, early in the fourth quarter, cut the Utah lead to four.
BYU then took a brief 27-24 lead thanks to a Daniel Coats touchdown grab. Utah responded in kind with a go-ahead touchdown drive orchestrated by quarterback Brett Ratliff, taking a 31-27 lead with just 1:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Beck guided BYU’s offense down the field, getting to the Utah 11 yard line with just three seconds left. Then, one of the most exciting plays in BYU history took place.
Beck to Harline was cemented in BYU lore forever. The win ended a four-game losing streak to the Utes, earned BYU an unspotted 8-0 conference record, and finished an incredible 10-2 regular season.
1. 2009 vs. Oklahoma
There was plenty of hype surrounding the opening game between Oklahoma and BYU. It was the first college football game played in the sparkling, gaudy new stadium in Arlington, TX for the Dallas Cowboys. Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford had won the Heisman Trophy the year before and had many wondering if he could win an unthinkable second straight Heisman.
The Sooners came into the game ranked No. 3 in the country and BYU entered at No. 20. Not much of the nation gave BYU a chance to win. Oklahoma had a 10-7 lead at halftime but BYU knocked Bradford out of the game with an injury. Landry Jones was forced to finish the game for the Sooners.
BYU took advantage. Even as the Sooners extended their slim lead to 13-7 on another field goal, the Cougars felt their chance for a major upset win was right within their grasp. With just over three minutes left in the game, Max Hall found McKay Jacobson for a go-ahead touchdown.
Oklahoma had a chance to respond, driving down into fringe field goal range. On 4th and 14, they attempted a 54-yard field goal which sailed left, clinching the enormous win for BYU. It launched them into the stratosphere of hype, with people thinking they could be the next BCS busters or even compete for the national championship. The win catapulted them from 20th to 9th in the rankings. It also help set the tone for independence a few years later, when BYU would routinely play big-brand programs on the national stage.