Archive for year 2008

Keys to Game vs. Utah Utes

Well, it’s here. Just like most of us envisioned three months ago. The BYU Cougars and the Utah Utes are heading into the final game of the regular season with the MWC title on the line and a potential BCS invitation looming on the horizon. Never before in the history of this rivalry have both teams been ranked as high as they are this season.

Recent history dictates that we can take everything we know about both teams and throw it out the window. Forget about the rankings, the stats, and the media hype. This rivalry has only had two blowouts in the past 20 years—1989 (BYU 70-31) and 2004 (Utah 52-21). All the other games have been decided by 10 points or fewer. The same goes for home-field advantage. The road team has won 12 times in the past 18 clashes.

As of Friday, the day before the game, Las Vegas oddsmakers have pegged Utah as a four-point favorite.

Three keys to defeat the Utes

1. Play with intense passion. When the Cougars headed into the locker room at halftime last weekend in Colorado Springs losing 14-10 to Air Force, wide receiver Austin Collie called out his teammates for their lack of, among other things, a killer instinct. It worked and the Y scored 21 points in the third quarter to regain the lead for good.

Whatever it takes, the Cougars need to play with fire in their bellies on Saturday–the kind that keeps them fighting until the final tick of the game clock is expired. With their perfect season on the line, you can bet the Utes will play with a maniacal attitude and fight to the finish.

2. Rule the day with the big play. In a game as closely matched as this one appears to be, the outcome will likely come down to which team makes more big plays than the other.

The psychological element of the big play is huge, especially in a rivalry game where the home crowd can be whipped into a furious frenzy or muffled in groans. Every time the Cougars can manage to pull off a long gainer for a score, force a turnover, or stuff a key third-down conversion attempt, they’ll seize the momentum and drive a very sharp and real point of doubt into the heart of the home team and its fans.

3. Mitigate the Brian Johnson factor. He’s cool and calm under pressure, the most visible leader of his team, and a senior playing his last game in front of the hometown crowd. He has a never-say-die attitude and he knows how to win.

So, how do you keep Johnson from beating you? Good question. Nobody’s been able to figure that one out this year.

The key is to bottle up the passing lanes and smother his receivers. Easier said than done because he’s got a bevy of talented receivers beginning with Brent Casteel, Freddie Brown and Bradon Godfrey.

But Johnson has been one-dimensional ever since his massive knee injury. He’s not going to beat you tucking the rock and taking it vertical. He did that once this year, but the stats reveal his vulnerability. He’s been sacked 22 times and is averaging 1.3 yards per carry, the lowest on the Utah squad.

If the Cougars hope to defeat the Utes, they’ll need to hold Johnson to fewer than 200 yards passing and less than a 60 percent completion rate. In the closest games that Utah has played this year, Air Force held him to 243 yards, New Mexico kept him at 195, TCU limited his yardage to 230, and Oregon State capped him at 201 yards on a 56.7 completion rate.


I’m really torn on this one. I didn’t think Brigham Young would be able to take the Falcons at home last weekend, but it proved me wrong. I see the Cougars playing with a fierce passion that will make their fans proud, and they should play the Utes as tough as any of the four opponents that took them to the wire this season. Still, I don’t believe they can contain Johnson and his receivers, nor can they keep them from making one more big play that decides the game. It looks like this is the year of the Utes: Utah 34, BYU 28

Report Card vs. Utah

Utah 48, BYU 24
BYU team grade: C-plus

You would think that with a score of 48-24 in favor of the Utes, BYU’s team grade would be worse, but were it not for Max Hall’s fumble and five interceptions Saturday, the Cougars very likely would have won.

Four of Hall’s six turnovers were converted into easy touchdowns—three of them coming in the fourth quarter when the score had been as close as 27-24 with Brigham Young driving when Hall fumbled. The Utes scored off that and then on the next two drives Hall threw ill-advised passes that turned into 14 more quick points.

The six turnovers by Hall set a BYU record for giveaways by an individual player in a single game.

Despite the six turnovers, the Cougars compiled more total yardage (418 to 416) and rushed for more yards than any other team has on the Utes this season with 214 (120 over the Utah average of 94 per game).

BYU also did not allow any sacks in the game, the first time this season the Utes had been shut out from sacking an opponent.

Cougar offense grade: C-minus

Again, take away just half of Hall’s six turnovers, and BYU’s offense played well enough to beat Utah.

• Solid pass protection provided by the offensive line—no sacks
• Rushing game totaled 214 yards. Could have had far more than that but just when the Cougars would move the ball on the ground with ease, Hall would turn it over.
• Harvey Unga and Fui Vakapuna both averaged over 7.7 yards per carry. Why BYU abandoned the running game when it was working so well is a mystery. Unga finished with 116 yards and two TDs on 15 carries (7.7 yards per try) and Vakapuna had 36 yards on four rushes (9.0-yard average).
• Austin Collie extended his streak of 100-yard receiving games to 10 with 104 yards on 10 catches. He also added 14 yards on two rushing attempts.

Hall also had six passes batted down by the Utah defensive front. He finished with his worst stats of the year (21 of 41 for 204 yards, five picks, zero passing TDs, one rushing TD).

Cougar defense grade: B

The defense was sliced and diced by Brian Johnson in the first quarter as Utah raced to a 17-3 lead on Johnson’s 254 passing yards—most of it on quick throws. The Cougars were only down 20-17 with a minute left in the first half when Hall threw his first pick and Utah converted it into a quick touchdown to make the halftime score 27-17.

The Cougar defense made good adjustments at the intermission and clamped down on Johnson, holding him to 46 yards passing in the second half.

The defense also limited Utah to just 110 yards rushing (64 yards below the Utes’ per-game average).

The most telling stat on how Hall’s turnovers affected the outcome of this game: Utah scored on five of its six possessions in the first half—one of those coming off a Hall interception right before the halftime whistle. The Cougar defense stopped Utah’s offense three drives in a row to begin the second half before Hall was picked off on three straight possessions, which handed the ball over to the Utes on BYU’s 31-, 4- and 29 yard-lines in those three turnarounds.

Cougar special teams grade: B

The Cougar special teams performed well enough to contribute to a win.

Collie set up BYU’s first three points with a 70-yard kickoff return in the first quarter. He had a 33.5-yard average per return (134 yards on four tries). O’Neill Chambers added 91 yards on four returns (22.8).

C.J. Santiago logged a 54.5 per-punt average on two boots, and Mitch Payne nailed all three extra point attempts and a 40-yard field goal.

The Cougars provided solid coverage on the Utah kickoff and punt return attempts.

Fourth and inches …

Just when the Mountain West Conference was gaining some serious cred, three of its head coaches are being replaced…New Mexico’s Rocky Long stepped down on his own, citing that he thought the Lobo program needed a new direction. Wyoming gave Joe Glenn the boot after six years and San Diego State dismissed Chuck Long after his third season.

There’s a long list of potential replacements rumored to be interested in the three openings, including John L. Smith, Steve Sarkisian, Terry Bowden, Dwayne Walker, Dennis Green, Glen Mason, Lane Kiffin, Steve Marriucci and Jaime Hill to name a few.

Anyone see BYU’s Max Hall down in Vegas this week?The junior QB set a school record for most turnovers in a game with six—five interceptions and one fumble—in the Cougars’ loss to Utah last weekend. Four of Hall’s turnovers were quickly converted into 28 points by the Utes.

And the award for biggest BCS whiner goes to? Right now, it’s a tie between USC’s Pete Carroll and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. Both of their respective programs still have a shot at the national championship game, but they’ve been busy working the media, claiming that a playoff would be the sure cure for the equations being spit out by the BCS computers. In reality, not a peep would be uttered by either coach had the Trojans taken care of business against Oregon State and if Oklahoma lassoed the Longhorns in Dallas several weeks ago.

BCS busters still standing: Utah claimed the prize plum bowl for non-BCS teams with its victory over instate rival Brigham Young last weekend. Ball State wrapped up its regular season undefeated, but it still needs to get by Buffalo in the MAC title game in next week. Boise State will wrap up an undefeated regular season when it rolls over Fresno State on its puke-blue smurf turf this Saturday.

Heisman ThermometerReclaimed Heisman Hot: Sam Bradford, Oklahoma. Burnt Orange Hot: Colt McCoy, Texas. Hangin’ in there Hot: Tim Tebow, Florida. Substantially cooled off: Graham Harrell, Texas Tech.

Conference Power Meter: 1. Big XII. 2. SEC. 3. Big Ten. 4. MWC 5. Pac-10 6. ACC. 7. Big East. 8. C-USA. 9. WAC. 10. Sun Belt.

Top games this weekend and why:
West Virginia at Pittsburgh. Neither team has a shot at the Big East title—unless Syracuse upsets Cincy. Still, a win improves the bowl situation for either team.
Colorado at Nebraska. Border and conference rivals. Colorado needs a win to become bowl-eligible and Nebraska needs the win to get a better bowl invite.
No. 19 Oregon at No. 17 Oregon State. The Beavers can end a 44-year Rose Bowl drought with a win over the hated Ducks.
No. 18 Georgia Tech at No. 13 Georgia. Battle for state bragging rights and better bowl game invitations.
Kansas at No. l2 Missouri. Big XII Conference rivalry and Kansas is looking for payback from last year. The Tigers could get caught looking ahead to the Big XII title game next week against Texas, Oklahoma or Texas Tech.
South Carolina at Clemson. Bitter instate rivalry will be clawing and scratching each other to claim state bragging rights.
Houston at Rice. Battle for supremacy in Houston. And there’s something on the line with the C-USA as both are deadlocked in first place with 6-1 conference records.
Maryland at No. 20 Boston College. Both teams still looking to mix up the ACC race even more than they have already.
Auburn at No. 1 Alabama. Some call this the best rivalry in college football. We’ll find out this weekend.
**Co-Game of the Week** No. 2 Florida at No. 23 Florida State. This one’s got a lot of appeal just to see if the Gators can continue to roll over another opponent. The Seminoles’ defense is ranked No. 20 in the nation.
**Co-Game of the Week** No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State. A shot at the Big XII title game and the national championship is at stake for the Sooners. Oh yeah, and state bragging rights.

Upset Specials: I choked last week, going 0 for 3. This week we’ll live dangerously again with Pitt over West Virginia, Florida State over Florida, and Oklahoma State over Oklahoma.

Fourth and inches …

Major college football’s second season kicks off this Saturday with three lower-tier bowl games and the mid-tier Las Vegas Bowl. After that, we’ve got 30 more games to go, culminating with the national championship bout between Florida and Oklahoma on Jan. 8 in Miami.

Expect to see a few upsets sprinkled throughout the next three weeks’ match-ups. I’m going out on the limb with a couple Big Ten powers and predicting Penn State to thwart USC and Ohio State to slip by Texas in the first five days of 2009.

Get out your favorite snack chips and dip and let the games begin!

Bowl game predictions…(best 10 matchups in bold)

Eagle Bank Bowl: Wake Forest 27, Navy 20
New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State 31, Fresno State 28
St. Petersburg Bowl: South Florida 38, Memphis 24
Las Vegas Bowl: BYU 27, Arizona 24
New Orleans Bowl: Troy 28, Southern Miss 27
Poinsettia Bowl: TCU 23, Boise State 16
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii 30, Notre Dame 28
Motor City Bowl: Central Michigan 30, Florida Atlantic 20
Meineke Bowl: West Virginia 34, North Carolina 24
Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State 20, Wisconsin 14
Emerald Bowl: California 28, Miami 23
Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech 24, Northern Illinois 22 Bowl: North Carolina State 21, Rutgers 20
Alamo Bowl: Missouri 38, Northwestern 28
Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl: Nevada 27, Maryland 24
Holiday Bowl: Oklahoma State 35, Oregon 23
Texas Bowl: Rice 31, Western Michigan 27
Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force 27, Houston 24
Sun Bowl: Oregon State 24, Pittsburgh 21
Music City Bowl: Boston College 28, Vanderbilt 24
Insight Bowl: Kansas 33, Minnesota 17
Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Georgia Tech 23, LSU 21
Outback Bowl: Iowa 24, South Carolina 20
Capital One Bowl: Georgia 31, Michigan State 23
Gator Bowl: Nebraska 20, Clemson 14
Rose Bowl: Penn State 20, USC 17
Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech 24, Cincinnati 23
Cotton Bowl: Texas Tech 33, Mississippi 24
Liberty Bowl: Kentucky 23, East Carolina 21
Sugar Bowl: Alabama 31, Utah 24
International Bowl: Connecticut 27, Buffalo 17
Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State 28, Texas 27
GMAC Bowl: Tulsa 41, Ball State 38
BCS National Championship: Florida 41, Oklahoma 38 in OT

Rating the coaching hires…(top three hires in bold)

Steve Sarkisian to Washington: Thumbs up. Sark is ready, W is willing.
Lane Kiffin to Tennessee: Risky, but having Papa Kiffin around helps.
Gene Chizik to Auburn: A head-scratcher. What was Jay Jacobs thinking?
Dabo Swinney to Clemson: Tigers play it safe; they missed an opportunity for a major upgrade.
Dave Clawson to Bowling Green: BG program just another stepping stone.
Bill Snyder back to Kansas State: Bringing Snyder back defies all logic.
Dan Mullen to Mississippi State: Bulldogs big winners – look out, SEC.
Danny Hope to Purdue: Former D-coordinator Brock Spack was a better choice.
Tim Beckman to Toledo: Super hire faces Ohio State/Boise State in ‘09.
Gary Andersen to Utah State: Should help Aggies challenge in the WAC.
Dave Christensen to Wyoming: Definitely makes Cowboys more intriguing.
Mike Locksley to New Mexico: Lobos got a good one.
Doug Marrone to Syracuse: Turner Gill was a far better choice.
Brady Hoke to San Diego State: Hoke will find tough going in MWC.
Stan Parrish to Ball State: Decent lateral replacement will keep Cardinals competing in MAC.

Head coaching openings remaining to be filled…(best job in bold)

Miami (Ohio)
New Mexico State
Eastern Michigan

Keys to Las Vegas Bowl vs. Arizona Wildcats

What’s at stake for both teams…

Arizona: 8-5 final record instead of 7-6; Pac-10 pride; capping off Mike Stoops’ most successful season in Tucson; first bowl game victory in 10 years; launching point for 2009.

BYU: Third consecutive 11-2 final record; third consecutive bowl game victory; top 15 season-ending ranking; catapult to high preseason ranking in 2009; and, enhancing Mountain West Conference status with another win over Pac-10 foe.

Historical context of an original WAC rivalry

For those who can only remember the most recent two games played between the Wildcats and Cougars that resulted in a split decision (Arizona won 16-13 in Tucson in 2006; BYU won 20-7 in Provo in 2007), there’s a lot more gridiron history between these schools than you might think.

The rivalry that used to exist between the two programs began in 1962 when they both were members of the old Western Athletic Conference. Prior to that, three games had been played in 1936, 1957 and 1959—all hosted by Arizona—resulting in one win, one loss and one tie for each program.

The next five games were also road trips for Brigham Young, something unheard of by today’s Division 1-A scheduling standards, with Arizona rolling off three consecutive wins (1962-64) followed by BYU’s own three-game victory streak from 1965-67. From thereon, the Cougars were actually allowed to be the home team on occasion, and the series went 4-6 in favor of the Wildcats over a 10-year span.

BYU’s two greatest all-time coaches both managed .500 win-loss records against Arizona. Tommy Hudspeth was 4-4 and his squads rolled off three straight conquests over the ‘Cats. Lavell Edwards’ boys went 3-3 against Arizona, clearly turning the corner on the rivalry with two explosive and dominating wins in 1974 (37-13) and 1977 (34-14).

After the 1977 spanking, the Wildcats were more than happy to associate their litter box with the former Pac-8 Conference. How could they possibly move their program forward if they were going to be tarred and feathered regularly by a lowly WAC school they had once seemed to dominate?

The Edwards era was the turning point in this rivalry and, of course, Edwards established how BYU’s Cougars would come to be recognized in post-1970s college football lore. Prior to Edwards’ reign, Arizona held an 18.6-16.8 scoring average over BYU in 13 previous contests. Under the stoic, pass-happy Master, the Cougs sported a 21.8-20.6 scoring advantage, thanks to the increase in offensive output during the last six games of the rivalry.

So, that’s the table Edwards & Co. set for the renewal of the rivalry given to Bronco Mendenhall 29 years later. With the two-game split the past two years, and no other contests scheduled in the future, the Las Vegas Bowl matchup will be the 22nd game in the rivalry, where the series now stands at 9-11-1 for the Blue and White — or 11-9-1 for the Blue and Red, however you prefer.

Even though Saturday’s contest is the rubber match between Stoops’ Wildcats and Mendenhall’s Cougars in the present day, it’s most important as an indicator of where each program is heading in the coming year.

Keys to the game – BYU

Brigham Young doesn’t require a rocket-science strategy to defeat Arizona. It’s all about prevailing in smash-mouth trench warfare. The Cougars have to win this game on both sides of the line and through special teams play. Solid line play on defense will force the Wildcats away from their game plan and help to mask some of the Y’s weaknesses in the defensive secondary.

The Y offensive line has to give Harvey Unga (4.8 yards per carry and 10 TDs in ’08) and bruiser Fui Vakapuna some consistent shafts of daylight to roll up the yardage on the ground and wear down Arizona’s front seven. The rushing attack has to be successful in order to open up some deep space for wide receivers Austin Collie and Michael Reed to maneuver.

Max Hall must play mistake-free and use the short passing game with tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George to keep Wildcat linebackers from crowding the box. Special teams need to convert every field goal opportunity and create either turnovers or huge field position shifts with their kicking and coverage game.

The Cougars will win if they can generate 400 total yards in offense and end up equal or better in the turnover category.

Keys to the game – Arizona

In the past two contests against BYU with Willie Tuitama at quarterback, the Cougars were effective in mitigating the Wildcat passing game with intense pressure on the pocket. Arizona can expect more of the same this time around. The Cougars are willing to roll the dice and see if the ‘Cats can beat them with their running game.

Unfortunately, they can. Nic Grigsby (1,066 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 12 TDs) and Keola Antolin (4.5 ypc and 10 TDs) are one of the most dangerous rushing tandems BYU will face this year. Both backs hit the line of scrimmage quickly and can dart out of danger and turn on burst-away speed. Antolin’s signature game this season came in a win over Cal when he rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. He’s just a freshman who will be playing in front of his hometown crowd in Las Vegas.

The key indicator that Arizona’s offense is more balanced and can get the job done when its two backs are clicking is Tuitama’s per-game passing yards average. His average dropped 77 yards per game from 307 in 2007 to 230 this season.

Tuitama is a seasoned field general who has learned to take what the defense will give him. And, he has two excellent targets with massive sophomore tight end Rob Gronkowski (6-foot-6, 260), who has 43 receptions and 10 TDs this year, and fleet senior wide receiver Mike Thomas (70 grabs, four TDs). The AZ offense needs to maintain a balanced offense and control the ball and the clock in order to beat the Cougars.

Defensively, the Wildcats’ mission looks simple on paper but good luck delivering it on the field. Only TCU and Utah, the second- and 12th-ranked defenses in the nation, have been able to thwart Max Hall and BYU’s passing attack and limit the Cougar ground game at the same time.

However, it’s worth noting that Brigham Young O-coordinator Robert Anae abandoned his rushing attack far too soon in both of the Cougar losses. Against TCU, Unga only carried the ball four times in the second half, yet still managed 53 yards on a 3.8 per-carry average. BYU rolled up 214 rushing yards against Utah, but only attempted running the ball 10 times in the second half as Hall was forced into five turnovers while attempting to air it out.

Still, if the Wildcats take away BYU’s air attack — limiting Hall to fewer than 225 passing yards — and force the Cougars to beat them on the ground they can win this one.


Both teams are pretty evenly matched, so expect an intangible or two to play a factor in the result. BYU only defeated two teams with winning records during the season and one of them was Division 1-AA #4 ranked Northern Iowa. Arizona beat just one winning team on its schedule (Cal, 42-27).

Both teams sport veteran offensive units that can score on any defense. Conversely, both defenses have been inconsistent. The Wildcats gave up 36 points in a road loss to New Mexico while the Cougars held the Lobos to three points at home. Arizona’s best defensive effort came in a 17-10 home loss to USC, and BYU’s came in a 59-0 blowout of UCLA in the friendly confines of Lavell Edwards Stadium. And yet, UNLV put up 35 points on the Cougars, followed by 42 points racked up by Colorado State in the second half of the season.

Look for this to be a close game that comes down to the difference of a field goal. Because Arizona is 2-4 on the road and playing in its first bowl game since 1998, I’ll give the edge to the Cougars, who are 4-2 on the road, but more importantly, playing in the Las Vegas Bowl for the fourth year in a row. BYU’s familiarity with the venue and the nuances of preparing for a postseason bowl game give it the slight edge in this contest. BYU 27, Arizona 24

Las Vegas Bowl Report Card vs. Arizona

Arizona 31, BYU 21
BYU Team Grade: C

Max Hall was unable to shake the turnover bug he caught against Utah in the last game of the regular season, and gave the ball away three times to Arizona in a 31-21 loss at the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday. Three missed field goals and 76 yards in penalties were also key in the Cougars’ self-destruction effort.

Hall ended the season with nine turnovers in BYU’s final two games.

Losing 10-7 at the half, the Cougars recovered a fumble by Wildcat QB Willie Tuitama on the first play of the third quarter and scored a few plays later to take the lead at 14-10.
More >