BYU's Mendenhall: Now Our Bowl Season Begins

The indoor practice facility was buzzing with activity today as the BYU football team spent the afternoon doing conditioning drills for strength coach Jay Omer. The team has moved on from their incredible victory over archrival Utah and is now focused on their upcoming date with the Oregon Ducks in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.

"Coach Mendenhall, when he addressed us today, said that the first season is done with and that's the regular season," said BYU quarterback John Beck. "Now our bowl season begins, and so what he's doing is giving us kind of a little break, and then starting up a new season called the bowl season."

The goal for the healthy players is to allow the Cougars to maintain their physical and cardio conditioning while keeping sharp their agility and speed for those who are able to do so. For those who are a bit dinged up, the goal is get them fully healthy in time for bowl game preparation.

"We're going to do what we've always been doing," said Matangi Tonga. "As of right now, we're just lifting and running and taking it easy with the pads to get our bodies rested. Right now we're just resting up and trying to get our bodies healthy and ready for Oregon, and then about a week before, we'll kick it in gear with pads and get prepared for Oregon. Before that we'll study film on get ourselves prepared physically to play by getting healthy and staying conditioned."

"Our corners are really banged up," said outside linebacker Bryan Kehl. "I really hope that they'll be ready to go because that will help out our defense a lot. Oregon is really athletic and so it should be a really fun game. I'm excited to play another good quality opponent."

"Right now is a good time because we have time to let guys get healthy and let them get their bodies back," said quarterback John Beck. "Then next week we'll start preparing, you know, throwing and running through drills and getting back into the swing of practice. I think it's smart what coach [Mendenhall] is doing because even though the season has been good to us because we've won a lot of games, we've had guys that have gotten injured. This will give us time to give guys a rest but it will also be a good time to get guys fired up about this last game."

Before facing an offense with many quality skill players, getting key defensive personnel healthy is a big priority.

"It is time recover a bit of strength and to get healthy, which is a big concern for a lot of guys in the next couple of weeks," Kehl said. "Then we jump on the film and get ready to go out there and win. The week before we go down there, we'll lock it in and get back to practicing. It will be fun go out there and have a good time and to enjoy our stay in Vegas, but we're going out there to win."

Inside linebacker Cameron Jensen feels that the defense will have their hands full against Oregon's offense under the direction of former BYU head coach Gary Crowton.

"We know they're going to be well prepared and that they'll have a good scheme planned against us," said Jensen. "Coach Crowton is a great offensive mind, and we know we'll have to play a lot better than we did in our last game. We know we're going to have our hands full with both the run and pass. We've got to get our guys healthy and play a lot better defensively than we did against Utah.

"We know they're going to be well prepared and that they'll have a good scheme planned against us. Coach Crowton is a great offensive mind, and we know we'll have to play a lot better than we did in our last game. We know we're going to have our hands full with both the run and pass. We've got to get our guys healthy and play a lot better defensively than we did against Utah."

"I haven't had a chance to watch film on them yet," said Matangi Tonga. "Anytime we get a chance to play a Pac-10 school is great. They're a big name, so it's going to be an honor for us and a great accomplishment for us to play a quality team like Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl."

The Cougars got their Oregon film today so the players can start breaking it down and analyzing player tendencies.

"We got [film] in today, and I've seen them a couple of times on TV," said Jensen. "I know a little bit, but I'm going in right now to watch film,"

Following a dramatic come from behind win over Utah with no time left on the clock, the Cougars are riding high, and the emotional win should help them keep the ball rolling as they prepare for a show down with Oregon in Las Vegas.

"As soon as Utah scored that last touchdown and I saw that there was about a minute and twenty seconds left, me and Fui [Vakapuna] knew we were going to score," said Tonga. "We were on the sidelines joking around and having fun, but those last three seconds were a thriller. It really felt good. It really is a blessing in disguise though to come back and beat the team that almost ruined [college] for me.

"Our confidence is up and our offense is really hot and our defense is playing great. We're just all fired up, and it's going to carry over onto the Vegas Bowl for sure. Also, knowing our last year's experience at the Las Vegas Bowl, it will even be that much more of a necessity for us to do well. We're also familiar with playing there so it's going to be a similar experience but against a different opponent."

BYU gave Pac-10's best defense all they could handle in last year's Las Vegas Bowl. This year they are confident that they can hold their own against the Ducks of Oregon, too.

"I think there should be a level of confidence in our team because the Cal team that we played last year, although they were fourth in the Pac-10 conference last year, was a very good Cal team," said Beck. "We knew that when we went out there and played them last year they would probably be the best defense that we play against, and we were able to be pretty successful against them by putting up 28 points with the game coming down to the wire.

"I think for us we should have confidence going in saying, ‘Hey we competed against a top Pac-10 team,' a Cal team that is now second if I'm not mistaken going to the Holiday Bowl. There really hasn't been much that has changed on their team other than their quarterback, and they've actually lost some guys on defense that are now in the pros. I think we should be confident in knowing that we can compete against anybody from any conference."

Senior linebacker Jensen wants to finish as a winner in his last game as a Cougar.

"We were going down there to win," said Jensen. "Having been down there once and knowing the atmosphere and what's going to happen, if anything, helps you to concentrate on the game more," said Jensen. "Nobody wants to go out a loser. Especially with this being the last game what I will play here and everybody wants to go out a winner."

Regardless of the outcome of this game, a win or loss will not diminish the Cougars' accomplishments this season.

"It definitely won't take away from the fact that we are conference champions and won't take away from being undefeated in conference," Jensen said. "You know at the same time who wants to go out a loser? That's one of the goals that we had was to go to a bowl game and win and we want to accomplish that."

Winning the conference has been a part of BYU's past history, but there is one aspect of the program's tradition that Coach Mendenhall and his Cougars want to change, and that is winning bowl games.

"I'm excited, and I think Coach Mendenhall hit the nail right on the head today," said Kehl. "He pointed out that we've come so far and have made steps. We've gone undefeated in the conference and at home. We won nine games in a row and ten games on the season. The only thing left in that next step is winning that bowl game, and he pointed out that the last time BYU won a bowl game was ten years ago, and that's too long. He showed us a highlight clip of the Kansas State game from ten years ago. BYU has gone to 24 bowls, won seven and lost sixteen and tied one. He pointed out to us that that's not a winning record, and he's pointed out that we've kind of turned the program around back to its winning glory in that we've done all of those other things. Now we have the opportunity to move forward in not just going to a bowl game and having fun but go to Las Vegas to win."

"The goal is simple: win," said Beck. "It's been ten years since we've won a bowl game, and I don't think it has to be put out any better than that, just win. We set out this season with particular goals. One was to win the Mountain West Conference and that was accomplished. The second was to beat Utah and that was accomplished, and there is one more and that's to win a bowl game. I think every time we step out onto the practice field that will be our motivation for the next three weeks and that's just to simply win. Find a way to win no matter how it happens, find a way to win."

With BYU ranked in the top 20 nationally, some may feel that playing Oregon, a team that lost to Oregon State recently, might be somewhat of a let down. However, those who might feel that way probably have not seen the Ducks play. Beck fully understands that Oregon is a talented opponent with a national reputation regardless of their win or loss record.

"I'm very pleased just because if you look at the beginning of the season, Oregon was a top ten team for a long time," said Beck. "They upset Oklahoma with a controversial call there at the end with the onside kick, but they were a top ten team in the nation for a long time there and were rolling pretty good. It's just there were a couple of games there where they struggled. We know there have been times when we struggled but then came out the next game on fire, and so this Oregon team might be firing on all cylinders and come out on fire trying to prove to the other Pac-10 team that they are more deserving of a bigger bowl for the Pac-10."

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