BYU Cougars

BYU Pre-game vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

There’s one thing you can always be sure of the week after a tough-luck defeat. You’re either going to bounce back and get on track, or you’re going to tank.

Last year, the BYU Cougars bounced back from their overtime defeat to Boston College and didn’t lose a game the rest of the season.

Contrast that with TCU’s loss to Texas last week. Instead of getting back on track and socking away a conference victory, it choked against the Air Force Academy last night. The Horned Frogs’ once-promising season is now in freefall.

So, the big question for BYU this week is: Will the Cougars bounce back from their heartbreaking loss to UCLA, or will they pull a TCU and get swept away by the payback-minded Golden Hurricane of Tulsa?

Here’s how both teams match up this week:

Tulsa Offense against the BYU Defense

Senior QB Paul Smith has 27 starts under his belt and as he goes, so goes the Tulsa offense. Unfortunately, most of Smith’s supporting cast from last season is gone. Huge losses suffered by the Golden Hurricane include four offensive line starters from last year, three of whom were All-Conference USA, and a backup center.

Louisiana-Monroe only managed one sack against the new Tulsa O-line two weeks ago, but look for BYU to triple or quadruple that number against an inexperienced front five.

Tulsa is also reloading at the receiver and running back positions. Gone are wideouts Idris Moss, Donnie Johnson, Ryan Bugg and blocking TE Charles Ramsey. The Golden Hurricane lost Brandon Diles, Cauvey Jackson, Dexter Taylor and last year’s leading rusher, Courtney Tennial, from their backfield rotation.

What it all adds up to is a top-flight quarterback working behind unproven protection, trying to spread the ball around to a host of weapons who all lack significant game-time experience. Oh, by the way, Tulsa is learning a revised version of the spread offense under new head coach Todd Graham.

Led by outside linebackers Bryan Kehl and David Nixon, the Cougar defense held Arizona scoreless for 59 minutes and UCLA to 20 points. That total would have been lower, but BYU’s punting game constantly handed the Bruins excellent field position in the first half.

Smith went 22 of 31 for 307 yards and three touchdowns against Louisiana Monroe two weeks ago, and the Tulsa rushing attack notched over 200 yards. Don’t bet on that happening against BYU this weekend.

Advantage: BYU

BYU Offense against the Tulsa Defense

Two hundred twelve yards. That’s what Louisiana Monroe rushed for against Tulsa in the season opener for both teams. Two hundred twenty-seven yards. That’s what the Cougars rushed for last year against the Golden Hurricane in their 49-24 victory at home. Tulsa is without both starting defensive ends from last year and backup Walter Boyd, who switched over to the offensive line.

Tulsa’s defense also lost C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bunting, a linebacker, as well as LB Kedrick Alexander. Gone from the defensive backfield are Nick Graham and Bobby Blackshire, both of whom were all-conference.

UCLA managed to bottle up BYU’s rushing attack pretty effectively last week, but Tulsa’s defense runs a 3-3-5 and is involved in a massive rebuild. The running game worked so well against Tulsa last year that John Beck only passed 23 times (240 yards on a 10.4 per-attempt average).

Max Hall is quickly proving to be the real deal, and he is spreading the ball around to all of his receiving weapons. Austin Collie, Michael Reed, Matt Allen, and the TE trio of Dennis Pitta, Andrew George and Vic So’oto form one of the best receiving corps in the nation.

Add the rushing attack trio of Fui Vakapuna, Manase Tonga and Harvey Unga, who are all dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield as well, and you’ve got a potent mixture that is just waiting to explode.

Oh yeah, the BYU offensive line isn’t so bad, either. It just might be one of the top-10 hog units in the nation.

Advantage: BYU

Special teams

Tulsa’s kicking game is experienced and proven with Jarod Tracy handling the kicking chores and punter Paul Jurado (41.8-yard average at Louisiana Monroe, 40.5-yard season average last year).

So far, the Cougar punting game has been a glaring weakness. Poor punting left BYU digging out of a hole the entire first half against UCLA, but CJ Santiago managed to gain composure and ended up with a solid 42.8-yard average for the game.

The kicking is suspect with Mitch Payne’s lingering injury. Walk-on Brian Smith will probably handle kickoffs and could see action on field goals and PAT situations.

Tulsa only managed 14 return yards against Louisiana Monroe two weeks ago. Austin Collie and Bryce Mahuika totaled 136 yards on six kickoff returns, but only 2 yards on punt returns.

Advantage: Even

Intangibles

Tulsa has the home-field advantage, which should be good enough for a plus-5 swing.

Tulsa has payback on its mind, but BYU needs this game more to get its season back on track. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has proven that he can lead his troops to a rebound, and he’s also proven that his staff can prepare the team on a short week when the opponent has had extra time to get ready (example: last year’s TCU game on the road when the Frogs had a bye the week before).

Golden Hurricane head coach Todd Graham has publicly stated that his team needs a plus-3 turnover advantage to win this game. It won’t happen. It’s difficult to imagine BYU showing the lack of discipline (penalties galore) and shoddy ball protection (three fumbles, two lost) that it did against UCLA last week.

The Cougars have a huge upside left to this season, especially now that everybody’s preseason MWC favorite, TCU, already has a conference loss. It’s not inconceivable that BYU could win out the rest of the way this year.

It all starts in Tulsa on Saturday night in the eye of the Golden Hurricane.

BYU 42, Tulsa 17

BYU Defense Missing in Action vs. Tulsa

You can’t pin the embarrassing 55-47 upset loss to Tulsa entirely on BYU’s defense.

In fact, for most of the game, it appeared as if they’d never even caught the flight with the rest of the team. It was that sorry of a performance. You’d have to revisit the worst days of the Gary Crowton regime to bring back those feelings of utter helplessness elicited by a Cougar defense.

Not that the offense didn’t contribute a whopping share of undisciplined play in the defeat. Consider these numbers: one, two, four, seven, 14, 140.

The woeful interpretation of that sequence of numbers is one missed field goal, two missed extra points, four turnovers, seven dropped passes, 14 penalties, 140 yards penalized. The abbreviated interpretation is UGLY.

Three of the turnovers were attributable to QB Max Hall — one being a pass interception returned for a touchdown for the second week in a row. Another interception that wasn’t his fault bounced out of Manase Tonga’s hands into a waiting Tulsa defender’s grasp. He also fumbled once when hit by a blindside tackler. Both turnovers resulted in scores by the opportunistic home team.

Hall’s turnovers marred an otherwise gallant performance of 34 completions in 57 attempts (59.6 percent) for 527 yards and four touchdowns.

His counterpart, Tulsa’s Paul Smith, had a career day (21 of 35 for 454 yards, five TDs, one INT) in the offensive shootout. It will be interesting to see how No. 3-ranked Oklahoma tries to contain him and his teammates next week.

Bright spots in the loss? Sure. CJ Santiago punted only four times for a whopping 48.3-yard average. And, Austin Collie had 238 kickoff return yards on eight attempts (29.8-yard avgerage, 52 yard long) to repeatedly give BYU a short field to work with. The flipside to Collie’s return yardage stats is that Tulsa had to score a lot to make it even possible.

The loss to the Golden Hurricane — the first ever in seven games between the schools — ended any hope the Cougars might have had for reaching BCS bowl qualification this season. What’s left is a chance to win the Mountain West Conference, a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl, a record of 11-2 that would match last year’s result, and a slot in the final season polls.

Quite frankly, none of those achievements seems very plausible now, considering how the Cougars have absolutely crippled themselves with seven turnovers and 224 yards in penalties during the past two games. Bad habits can be very hard to break.

The 224 penalty yards are 19 more than BYU’s total rushing yardage in the same two games. Talk about a waste of effort.

BYU now stands at 1-2 on the season. Conference play begins next week against undefeated Air Force. The Falcons already have a 2-0 record in conference play, having knocked off both Utah and TCU.

The following week, BYU takes on New Mexico in Albuquerque. The Lobos knocked off the same Arizona team that BYU did a couple weeks ago, except they did it on the road in Tucson last night and managed to lay 29 on the Wildcats’ defense.

The rest of the conference is laden with plenty of challenges for the Cougars. A week ago, the Team Up North looked pathetic, but it crushed UCLA 44-6 yesterday, so one can only imagine what they might be like in November with a healthy Brian Johnson at the helm.

Bronco Mendenhall’s inability to reign in the team’s unruliness on the field during the last two big weeks of non-conference play does not bode well for the rest of the season.

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion by the Cougar faithful that last week’s close loss to UCLA would provide plenty of motivation for the Y to sharpen itts focus and execute decisively against Tulsa. That turned out to be a pipe dream.

How much the rest of BYU’s once-promising season turns out to be an illusion is anyone’s guess at this point.

BYU Tops TCU in MWC Action

Several storylines unfolded in Provo, Utah Thursday night where BYU defeated TCU in a key MWC contest, 27-22.

Storyline #1. The Cougars offensive line turned in one of their finest performances of the season, yielding only one quarterback sack to TCU’s acclaimed defensive ends Chase Ortiz and Tommy Blake. BYU quarterback Max Hall had enough time throughout much of the game to post solid numbers (26 for 44, 305 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT).

Brigham Young’s O-line got stronger as the game progressed and by the second half, Cougar running backs Harvey Unga and Manase Tonga began blasting through holes that were difficult to find earlier in the game. Unga rushed for 64 yards on 16 carries, and scored twice. Tonga added another 17 yards on 5 carries, and Hall contributed 28 yards on 5 scrambles.

Storyline #2. Third down conversion success. 13 for 20, to be exact.. BYU’s ability to make the big plays when they needed to keep their drives going led to a six-minute advantage in possession and 405 total yards in offense over a Horned Frogs defense that was averaging a per game yield of just 176 total yards.

Storyline #3. Minimal penalties.. Only 30 yards penalized on 4 flags–a whopping improvement from earlier this season. The only time the Cougars really hurt themselves in this category was a holding call that negated a perfectly executed Hall to Pitta touchdown pass in the second quarter. BYU settled for a field goal on the possession and lost 4 points because of the penalty.

Storyline #4. Quick start. Brigham Young scored on their first possession and never trailed the Horned Frogs in the game. They held a 17-9 advantage at the half, and drew first blood in the second half on a Kelly Poppinga interception that led to a 3-yard touchdown scamper by Harvey Unga. That turnover and score proved to be the real dagger in TCU’s gut, giving BYU a 24-9 lead with just a minute gone on the second half clock.

Storyline #5. Clutch plays. The Cougars constantly came up with big plays to keep drives going and stifled the Horned Frogs when they needed a clutch play the most. Max Hall scrambled 22 yards for a first down during BYU’s first possession of the game deep in TCU territory. That led to a Harvey Unga 15-yard touchdown jaunt on the next play.

On another third down situation in the first half, Hall scrambled and found Austin Collie open for a 66-yard gain. That play led to a Hall to Joe Semanoff touchdown pass two plays later.

Dennis Pitta and Matt Allen both made incredible acrobatic, tiptoe-on-the-sideline receptions on third down conversion attempts to keep key drives going for the Cougars.

BYU’s defense stopped TCU on all three of their fourth down conversion attempts in the second half, and as mentioned previously, Poppinga’s interception squelched the Horned Frog’s first possession of the second half and led to a Cougar touchdown on the next play.

David Nixon’s QB sack on TCU’s final drive was a back-breaker for the Frogs.

Mitch Payne’s two field goals proved to be the winning margin.

The victory keeps BYU’s record perfect in the Mountain West Conference at 5-0 (7-2 overall) and extends their conference winning streak to thirteen. The Cougars next game is at Wyoming on November 17.

BYU Dominates Wyoming, 35-10

Brigham Young knocked off Mountain West Conference foe Wyoming, 35-10, in Laramie today.

The Cougars were led by first year players, sophomore QB Max Hall and redshirt freshman RB Harvey Unga. Hall was 26 for 37, 331 yards, and 3 TDs, while Unga gained 110 yards and scored twice in the win. Unga’s 100-yard game was his fifth of the season and set a MWC record for freshmen running backs.

The Cougars did not turn over the ball or give up a sack for the first time this season. They also held Wyoming’s rushing offense to 9 net yards.

Commentary: BYU gained a share of the MWC title for the third year in a row under head coach Bronco Mendenhall in his first three years They won the title outright last year, and need to beat either Utah or San Diego State during the next two weeks to claim the crown again for themselves. The Cowboys fell to 5-6 on the season and will need to beat arch rival Colorado State next week to become bowl eligible. It’s a far cry from their season opener when they smashed current #16 ranked Virginia, 23-3.

Cougars Stun Utah, Win MWC Outright

One of the most intense rivalries in college football lived up to its billing again today as the BYU Cougars scored the winning touchdown over Utah with less than a minute remaining to claim the Mountain West Conference championship outright for the second year in a row.

Ten of the last 11 meetings between the rivals have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Standout freshman running back Harvey Unga scored the winning touchdown on an 11-yard blast up the middle with 38 seconds left on the clock. Just three plays earlier, BYU (9-2, 7-0) had stared in the face of impending defeat and didn’t blink at the challenge.

With the Cougars facing a desperation fourth-and-18 situation from their own 13-yard line, sophomore QB Max Hall scrambled away from a heavy Utah pass rush and found Austin Collie open down the sideline for a 49-yard gain. Two 15-yard penalties on the Utes enabled the Cougars to move in for the kill and set up Unga’s touchdown run.

The BYU rally became necessary when Utah (8-4, 5-3) put together a 7-minute plus, 69-yard drive and reached pay dirt for the first time in the game to take a 10-9 lead at the 1:38 mark. Led by quarterbacks Brian Johnson and Corbin Louks, the Utes ran the ball 12 times with only three pass attempts on their go-ahead drive.

The so-called “Holy War” started out with both teams shooting blanks at each other and the first quarter ended in one big blank, 0-0. Both Utah and BYU turned the ball over twice in the first half, and the teams headed to the locker room at half time with the Cougars clinging to a 3-0 lead.

The defensive struggle prevented both teams from reaching their respective per game averages: BYU held Utah to 246 total yards (127 below their average) while Utah held the Cougars to 424 total yards (29 below their average).

Ute RB Derrell Mack was averaging 107 yards per game, but was held to 55 yards on 13 carries. Unga was averaging 91 yards rushing and ended up with 144 yards on 23 carries. Unga’s performance made him the first Brigham Young freshman running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season (currently 1,053 yards with one MWC game remaining).

Utah’s regular season comes to an end, but BYU has one more conference game remaining next week at San Diego State–a make-up game that was cancelled in late October during the Southern California wildfire disaster.

BYU Outlasts San Diego State

On Saturday, the Brigham Young Cougars pounded out 305 yards on the ground — 161 of them by super frosh running back Harvey Unga — on their way to a 48-27 Mountain West Conference victory over San Diego State (4-8, 3-5) in San Diego.

Unga scored three touchdowns — two rushing and one receiving — on 26 touches to pace the Cougar offensive attack. Junior RB Fui Vakapuna, who has missed much of the season with leg injuries, added 97 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

BYU’s defense struggled early in the game trying to contain Aztec QB Kevin O’Connell (33-55, 288 yards, three TDs (two rushing), one INT), but the group made adjustments and contained him in the second half. Meanwhile, the Cougar offense began to eat up the clock and distance themselves on the scoreboard.

The victory gave MWC champion BYU (10-2, 8-0) its second straight undefeated conference season and ninth consecutive win in 2007.