MWC Wrap-up Week #8

Eight weeks down and only four to go for MWC football teams. While TCU distances itself from the pack, the race remains wide open for the #2 through #4 spots, and the corresponding bowl bids.

BYU 23, Notre Dame 49.

The Cougars needed a perfect game to win, and a little help from the Irish to boot. They got neither and the game was nearly a rout. Clinging to life with just over 10 minutes remaining, BYU had moved the ball deep into Notre Dame territory. A touchdown would bring them within two possessions at 30-42. Quarterback John Beck made one of his few bad decisions of the day, throwing for a covered Dan Coats in the right flat, and the game was over. Safety Tom Zbikowksi intercepted, and there was nothing between him and the BYU end zone but 83 yards of grass.

The offense showed it was able to compete against the defense of a top 10 team, but the game was lost on the defensive side of the ball. The scheme favored by Cougar head coach Bronco Mendenhall relies on the blitz. When you blitz, your defensive backs are forced into man coverage. In man coverage, the advantage moves to the player with more athletic ability, especially speed. BYU does not have the speed in its defensive backfield to cover quality receivers man-to-man. The Cougar coaches know it, and their defensive backs therefore give a big cushion to opposing receivers. Opposing coaches also know it, and those who have the weapons to do so take what the BYU defense is forced to give. Saturday they gave a lot. The most misleading stat of this game is Notre Dame's 51 rushing yards. Let it be here recorded that the Cougars did not limit the Irish to 51 yards. The Irish, knowing the cushion their receivers were likely to get, chose to throw the ball. And throw the ball. Brady Quinn had 42 attempts, and because it was easy pitch and catch to wide-open teammates he completed 32 of them, many to receivers who were laughably wide open. The Notre Dame receivers toyed with the BYU secondary.

Fahu Tahi, however, was a man. Although he only carried 14 times, he picked up 60 yards, and they were tough yards, bowling over Irish defenders and refusing to go down. He also caught five balls for 72 yards.

No Show of the Week: Todd Watkins. He had his chances but had three crucial drops on long passes, balls that went right through his hands.

Given the state of the Cougar defensive secondary a victory against the Irish required the greatness of BYU quarterbacks of old, but Beck was merely good - at times quite good - completing 26 of 46 for 320 yards. Indeed, had Watkins caught the easy balls Beck would have completed 29 of 46 for over 400 yards. Not a bad day, but not great enough. In the second quarter he overthrew a wide-open Matt Allen on third and eight at the Notre Dame 25. Had BYU put it in the end-zone on that drive, they would have re-taken the lead 17-14. Instead they never led again. Beck later chose to throw deep on successive plays, both incomplete, instead of picking up a first down to keep a drive alive.

With the loss, the Cougars fall to 3-4, needing to win three of the next four to be bowl-eligible.

Next up: Air Force, then at UNLV, at Wyoming, and Utah at home. Unless the team that played SDSU shows its face again, BYU has an excellent chance to win them all.

Colorado State 39, Wyoming 31.

In The Border War, Colorado State bounced back from last week's loss in Provo and stayed alive in the conference race. For the third consecutive week Wyoming quarterback Corey Bramlet committed critical errors, this time throwing two interceptions, one of which was returned 29 yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys also lost three fumbles on the day. Thus, despite 24 first downs to the Rams' 19, the ‘Pokes lost their third consecutive game to fall to 2-3 in conference play and 4-4 overall. CSU kept its title hopes alive, but must win out and hope for a TCU loss to tie the Horned Frogs.

Next up: Colorado State at New Mexico; Wyoming at Utah.

TCU 48, Air Force 10.

TCU throttled Air Force in Colorado Springs with 27 first half points. The Falcons hurt their cause with two fumbles, but it wouldn't have mattered as the Horned Frogs rolled up 539 yards while holding their hosts to only 389.

Next up: TCU at SDSU; Air Force at BYU.

Utah 42, UNLV 32.

The Utes had lost three straight and four out of five, the lone win being a three-point win at home over Fischer DeBerry's worst Air Force team ever. They managed to do what only six other teams have done this year – beat UNLV. The Rebels gave it their best, which wasn't much, but still laid 28 first downs and 488 yards of total offense on Utah.

Next up: Utah vs. Wyoming; UNLV has a bye, followed by BYU.

New Mexico 47, San Diego State 24.

The Lobos laid the wood to the Aztecs, leading 23-0, 30-3 and 40-10 before calling off the dogs. All told, New Mexico had 33 first downs to the Aztecs 15, and nearly 38 minutes of possession. SDSU continued its roller coaster tradition, a week after upsetting Utah in Salt Lake City.

Next up: New Mexico vs. Colorado State; San Diego State vs. TCU

Bowl Watch

The Mountain West has guaranteed slots in three bowl games: the Las Vegas on December 22 versus the PAC-10 #5, the Poinsettia in San Diego also on December 22 versus an at-large opponent, and the Emerald in San Francisco on December 29 versus the PAC-10 #6. After complaining for years about the tie-in to the Liberty, Mountain West fans got their way and now have no guaranteed slot there, although there is an at-large slot for which the MWC is being considered.

TCU is a lock for a bowl, the only question is where. At this point the Liberty is likely, inasmuch as it has a payout of nearly twice any of the other three ($1.35 million), and should the Frogs win out they would be ranked as high as #15. They also have the toughest part of their schedule behind them with only Colorado State a remaining quality opponent, and that game is in Ft. Worth. TCU winning out would be the best scenario for the conference, because it would maximize the total number of bowl slots.

Colorado State, New Mexico, BYU, Wyoming and Utah still all have realistic shots at qualifying, but are fighting over only three, or possibly even two, remaining slots. The Rams are 4-3 and need to win at least two of their last four to be eligible: at New Mexico, at TCU, then SDSU and UNLV at home. Likely losses at Albuquerque and Ft. Worth would probably doom their hopes, however, even should they finish 6-5.

New Mexico at 5-3 need win only one of its last three to qualify, and that one will likely come in their finale at home against Air Force on November 19. The question is can they pick up one more win to finish at least 7-4? Like Colorado State, 6-5 would leave the Lobos on the bubble and they don't travel especially well and lack a marquee name. A bowl committee would likely prefer a 6-5 BYU, CSU or Utah over the Lobos.

Wyoming at 4-4 has the toughest road ahead, not merely because they need to win two of three, but because those three are at Utah, BYU at home, and at SDSU, and the ‘Pokes have not played well for a month. A sweep is really needed, however, because outside Wyoming the Cowboys are even less of a draw than the Lobos.

BYU stands at 3-4 with four remaining. Winning three would qualify the Cougars, and a 6-5 BYU stands a better chance than any other 6-5 Mountain West team of actually getting an invite. The Cougars still have a bit of luster to their name, and have a built-in fan base that other MWC schools lack.

Utah was in free-fall until this week. At 4-4 the Utes also need to win at least two of three to qualify. Did the win at Las Vegas right the ship? We'll find out quickly as Utah hosts Wyoming this week, followed by New Mexico, then arch-rival BYU. Should they win two of three they're probably in, if for no other reason than the lingering fame of last year's BCS run, but a loss to any of the three remaining opponents wouldn't be an upset.

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