Cougar mindset in good shape for UTEP

BYU and UTEP are converging from two different ends of the winning spectrum. After starting out 1-4, the Cougars have turned around a season once thought lost and earned an invitation to the New Mexico Bowl. On the other hand, after a 5-1 start, UTEP has only won one of its six last games.

The Cougars will face the Miners on December 18 in Albuquerque in what will be the first bowl game played this season. Although teams are allowed to have 15 bowl practices, the Cougars won't end up using their full allotment.

"You're allowed 15, but last week we used it basically for rest and treatment, lifting and running to try to maybe heal some lesser injuries," Coach Mendenhall said. "So we'll practice all this week including Saturday, which will give us six [practice days]. Then going into next week there will be five, so we'll miss four practices of the allowed."

With the bowl game being played so early, the players will have to wrap up finals sooner than normal.

"This week is reading week but because we're leaving early next week – we're leaving early on Wednesday morning – we'll push finals to Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday," Mendenhall said. "There will be quite a few players that you'll hit and miss this week trying to get their school work caught up."

Quarterback Jake Heaps actually missed Monday's practice while taking care of some schoolwork. Balancing academics, bowl preparation and the bowl game itself is a challenge that Heaps and the rest of the team must deal with.

"[BYU] vice president John Tanner send out a release to all the professors letting them know what our schedule was and asked the professors to accommodate as best they could," Mendenhall said. "In the past they've done that and it's not ideal for anybody. We're just making the most and best of it as we can."

This will be the first bowl game UTEP has played in since 2004, and the two teams haven't played each other since 1998 when the Miners beat BYU 31-14 in El Paso.

"I've only seen a little bit of UTEP," Mendenhall said. "Last Friday I saw some. [The Miners are] fairly explosive offensively with a mobile quarterback and a good running back. They throw the ball decently and defensively they're fairly solid. They were really off to a nice start being 5-1 … and then played some good teams and played them tough to the end. It will be a good matchup."

The Miners are led by head coach Mike Price.

"The only relationship I have with Mike Price is he recruited me out of Snow College when he was a coach out of Weber State," Mendenhall said. "He coached my brother Marty at Weber State, and I've just kind of followed his career over time."

Mendenhall was pleased with how his Cougars fared upon their return to the practice field.

"Yeah, I liked it and they would really like to play and play well in their final game," Mendenhall said. "I'm really encouraged so far by their mindset."

Senior cornerback Brian Logan was also happy with how the team performed during Monday's practice.

"I'm excited for the younger generation because now they know how to practice," Logan said. "They know what it takes and I think a lot of guys came in thinking, 'Oh, we're BYU and winning is going to come easy.' When the program did turn around, you saw guys not giving up but saw how hard they were working to make that turnaround. The younger generation knows what it takes to be winners to keep that BYU tradition going."

Logan will be playing his last game as a Cougar, and looks forward to his final opportunity to suit up for BYU.

"I'm excited about the UTEP game," said Logan. "For me being a senior, I'm especially excited about this game. I want to go out on top."

Logan said he likes where the Cougar program is headed, and feels that it's in good hands.

"I feel that in looking back, it was different for me last year," Logan continued. "I was a J.C. guy and felt I had to prove myself, so I came in with that mindset of grinding and working hard. I see some of these younger guys who were some of the top athletes in the nation coming in where here everyone is good, everyone is big and everyone is fast. To see them working hard, it just makes me happy for the program in the up-and-coming years. I think the attitude among the younger guys in the program is they want to go out and win their first bowl game and send the seniors out on top. It's good to see."

Injury Update

Outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton had surgery on the opposite shoulder that he had repaired earlier in his career.

"Jordan Pendleton had surgery on his shoulder last week," said trainer Kevin Morris. "Although we knew he was going to have to have it, we tried to get him through the end of the season and ended up having surgery last week. So he's in to that recuperation part. It's one of those four-to-five month recoveries, so he'll miss spring ball."

Pendleton's knee was scoped at about the same time as his shoulder surgery so as to get everything fixed all at once.

"We tried to get him with the knee and everything to get him ready to go, but we just weren't able to, so we scheduled the [shoulder] surgery. The knee is good and they went ahead and scoped it. There was some injury from the dislocation, but nothing that would be an issue later on. They kind of cleaned it up and scoped it. I don't anticipate that being an issue."

As his shoulder continues to heal, defensive end Vic So'oto spent most of Monday at "Muscle Beach," BYU's nickname for the workout that injured players go through if they are not cleared for pratice.

"Vic was at Muscle Beach today, and his MRI looked good," Morris said. "It looked more like a rotator cup strain and more muscle strain than damage wise, so we've got him rehabbing trying to get his strength. I think it will be more towards next week before he's able to do a lot of stuff out here [on the practice field]. We're just mainly focusing on rehabbing and stuff like that."

Meanwhile, Heaps suffered a rib injury during the game against Utah but should be fine.

"I hate to use the full-body contusion type thing," Morris said with a smile. "You know, he was kind of beat up and sore after the [Utah] game. I anticipate him being able to go. I mean, he played the whole game. We kind of evaluated him during the halftime of the Utah game and he looked good and played the rest of the game. I think he's going to be good."

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