Mountain West Wrap-up Week #1

Forrest Allred is back with his weekly Mountain West Conference reports. This week, the MWC had seven games against BCS opponents. The conference put up a good fight, going 3-4 in those games.

BYU 3, Boston College 20.

This was a game of firsts, and not only for the players. BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall, in his first appearance as a head coach, faced a tough and experienced opponent in Boston College. Unfortunately, he had his own stumbles, most notably a decision to punt the ball away on fourth and three from inside the Boston College 40 yard line. Trailing at that point by two touchdowns with less than nine minutes remaining in the contest, the BYU offense had one of its few good scoring opportunities of the game. Hoping punter Derek McLaughlin would deliver a coffin corner kick, Mendenhall believed his defense would stop the Eagles quickly and force a punt from the end zone. Instead, McLaughlin drove the kick deep into the end zone, and with it went BYU's slim hopes for a comeback victory.

Quarterback John Beck looked sharper than he ever has at BYU. He showed a stronger arm and made decisions quickly, hitting 41 of 60 attempts for 330 yards, with no interceptions. Unfortunately, Todd Watkins was a non-factor, catching only two balls as the deep pass was all but abandoned. The BC secondary did a fine job of keeping the Cougar receivers in front of them, and there were precious few yards after the catch. Johnny Harline at tight end (four catches for 44 yards) and Nathan Meikle at wide out (nine for 45) were impressive, and veteran tight end Dan Coats was also back in top form, catching four passes for 32 yards. Fahu Tahi showed soft hands with eight grabs for 46 yards, and proved tough to bring down, whether rushing the ball or after a catch. No BYU ball carrier or receiver lost a fumble, another sign of off-season improvement.

BYU had as many first downs as the Eagles, nearly 100 more passing yards, more time of possession, and fewer turnovers. The lack of a running game was glaring, however. Curtis Brown averaged 4.1 yards per carry, but was only given eight attempts.

Defensively, the Cougars were not as sharp. Tackling technique needs to be improved, and fast, if BYU is to have a chance at a winning season. BC receivers were often left unattended, resulting in easy catches and significant gains. Mendenhall loves to blitz, but a blitzing defense demands meticulous man coverage behind it. BYU's secondary does not have enough speed to compensate for serious errors in coverage. Also, too much arm tackling let BC runners make big yards after contact.

Penalties were the bane of the game. Mendenhall took office promising to restore discipline, and all signs were that he had made strides in doing so. Ten penalties are way too much, even in an opener. Veteran players repeatedly lining up off sides is a pure mental error, for which there is no excuse.

Next up: Eastern Illinois.

Utah 27, Arizona 24.

An ill-advised decision to punt also cost Arizona. Coach Mike Stoops, in his second year as a head coach, trailed by only a field goal when his offense got the ball back at his own 20 with 6:36 remaining. After driving to the Utah 41, Stoops elected to take the ball from quarterback Richard Kovalcheck and give it to punter Danny Baugher, who promptly kicked it into the Utah end zone. The Utes picked up two first downs on successive runs, and the game was over. Stoops' defense had already given up nearly 400 yards to Utah before the punt, making it hard to understand his confidence in his defense.

First year starter Brian Johnson looked good for Utah at quarterback, completing 19 of 30 attempts while picking up 18 net yards on five carries. Quinton Ganther impressed at running back, carrying 24 times for 127 yards.

Next up: Utah State.

TCU 17, Oklahoma 10.

If the season ended today, Gary Patterson would be Coach of the Year. After his defense finished worst in the land in 2004, Patterson and staff assembled a defense that held Oklahoma to 14 first downs and 225 total yards on its home turf. Admittedly, the Sooners lost a lot on offense, especially at quarterback, but this was nevertheless a huge win for the MWC. The addition of TCU might be enough to vault the MWC into the BCS, in place of the diminished Big East.

Next up: at SMU.

Air Force 17, Washington 10.

In another excellent win for the MWC, the Falcons traveled to Seattle and spoiled Tyrone Willingham's debut as the Huskies' head coach. AFA laid over 400 yards on Washington, including 209 passing yards, and came back from a 13-point deficit with two fourth quarter touchdowns to win. The clincher came on a Shawn Carney one-yard run with 34 seconds remaining in the game. Fewer than 27,000 fans showed up in Seahawks Stadium to support the Huskies.

Next up: San Diego State.

Colorado State 28, Colorado 31.

Playing at Folsom Field instead of a neutral site, the Rams nevertheless led 21-10 heading into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the Rams gave up 21 fourth quarter points to their in-state rivals. After the Buffaloes scored a touchdown to go up 28-21 with 1:30 remaining, Justin Holland led Colorado State 80 yards in 8 plays to tie the game, taking only 54 seconds. A squib kick backfired when Colorado returned it to their own 40. Two passes moved the ball 30 yards, and Mason Crosby, touted as the nation's best kicker, had no trouble from 47 yards out.

Next up: at Minnesota.

Wyoming 14, Florida 32.

The Cowboys fought, but Florida led by 23 before Wyoming got on the board halfway through the third quarter. Corey Bramlet was sacked three times and faced a fast Gator secondary that held him to just 14 completions in 32 attempts, and picked him off once.

Next up: Louisiana-Monroe.

San Diego State 21, UCLA 44.

The Bruins scored on their first play from scrimmage and never trailed. The Aztecs out gained their visitors 402 yards to 349, but a punt returned for a touchdown and two interceptions doomed them to the loss.

Next up: at Air Force.

New Mexico 24, UNLV 22.

In a Labor Day conference opener, UNLV visited New Mexico and spotted the Lobos a 17 point lead in the first quarter. The Rebels cut it to nine in the third, but the Lobos opened the fourth quarter by culminating an 11 play drive with a touchdown, stretching the lead to 15. UNLV responded, and had a chance to tie with 1:31 remaining, but a two-point conversion attempt fell short. The Rebels weren't done, however, and recovered the onside kick. Needing only a field goal to win, quarterback Shane Steichen promptly tossed an interception to Lobo defensive back Gabriel Fulbright and the game was over.

UNLV showed significant improvement, holding Dontrell Moore, possibly the MWC's best running back, to just 39 yards on 16 carries. Regrettably, the team could muster only 14 first downs with their new spread offense.

Next up: For UNM, at Missouri; for UNLV, vs. Idaho.

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