MWC Week #3 Wrap

Get out the broom. Four Mountain West schools teed it up with Pac-10 schools on Saturday, and all four won: BYU over UCLA, TCU over Stanford, New Mexico over Arizona and UNLV over Arizona State. The only conference school to lose Saturday was San Diego State, although Colorado State did not play.

#15 BYU 59, UCLA 0

The Cougars were ready. Better yet, BYU physically dominated UCLA, proving that Washington played over its head to even keep last week's game close. In the process BYU put to rest the claims of national pundits who hadn't watched that game but still felt qualified to put out the line that the Cougars hadn't earned the Washington win, but had it given to them by the Pac-10 officials.

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall doesn't believe in making statements, but the rest of the country will certainly see this game as one. Mendenhall termed it the Cougars' most complete early-season game in his short tenure, describing the defensive hitting as fierce. Missed assignments nearly disappeared, often leaving the Bruins nowhere to go as BYU played much of the game with a nickel package to compensate for the loss of linebacker Vic So'oto. On offense, five second-quarter touchdowns blew the doors off.

In the first half alone, the Cougars racked up 19 first downs, six passing touchdowns, and 314 yards of total offense. Six receivers caught balls, led by Austin Collie with 10, as Max Hall completed 23-of-29. On defense the Bruins were held to 88 passing yards, zero net rushing yards on nine attempts and only five first downs, and they lost three fumbles and had a field goal attempt blocked. BYU ended the game with 30 first downs, 523 yards of offense, and 35:31 time of possession while holding the Bruins to 11 net rushing yards and 237 yards of offense.

After playing less than two-thirds of the third quarter and scoring one more time, the starters were done for the day, but there was no drop-off. The second unit posted 10 more points in the quarter, including the Cougars' first field goal of the season and a touchdown set up by Matt Putnam's pick of a UCLA screen pass at the Bruins' 25, which he returned to the 9-yard line.

BYU lost only one turnover all day, on a tipped pass, as Max Hall completed 27-of-35 for 272 yards and seven touchdowns. Brenden Gaskins in relief completed 4-of-5 for 66 yards. The offense was again a model of efficiency, converting 13-of-16 third downs, including two by the second unit. The defense, to this point the Cougars' weak spot, took a big step forward, although Mendenhall stated in post-game comments they still haven't played up to their full potential.

The shutout, Coach Mendenhall's second, was especially sweet as UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel strived mightily to avoid that very result. Neuheisel left his offensive starters in the entire game, attempted a field goal when trailing 59-0 and called all his timeouts on the Cougars' last possession in a vain attempt to get the ball back in time to score. It was UCLA's worst loss in 79 years.

Next up: versus Wyoming.

#22 Utah 58, Utah State 10

The Aggies actually led 7-0, after a muffed punt reception by Utah, but the Utes quickly answered and added a field goal to lead 10-7. The ensuing Utah kickoff was returned by Curtis Marsh, who was stripped at the Aggie 20. The Utes ran it in for the score to lead 17-7.

The game was overwhelmingly a Utah story, as the Utes ran for 233 yards, passed for 213 and dominated Utah State defensively. Wanting to make his own statement, Coach Kyle Whittingham left his starters in until 8:25 remained in the fourth quarter to get the all-important 48-point margin of victory.

Next up: at Air Force.

TCU 31, Stanford 14

Although TCU was clearly the better team, this game was closer than the final score indicated. The first quarter was a defensive struggle that saw every possession end in a punt save one TCU touchdown. The Frogs then turned a Stanford fumble into a touchdown early in the second quarter and looked to be on their way, but the Cardinal struck back with a 38-yard Doug Baldwin run, then took a blocked punt to the house to tie it up. Suddenly, it was a game. The teams traded punts twice to end the half.

The third quarter mirrored the first, as TCU fought for a one-touchdown lead. The turning point came with 9:38 remaining in the game. Faced with fourth-and-one at their own 42, the Cardinal elected not to punt. The Frogs stuffed the rush and nine plays later kicked a 23-yard field goal to lead 24-14 with 2:24 to play. Now needing a miracle, Stanford instead fumbled away the next play from scrimmage, handing TCU the ball at the Stanford 13, which the Frogs converted for the final score.

Next up: at SMU, followed by a date with #3 Oklahoma.

Air Force 31, Houston 28

In a road game moved from Houston to Dallas to avoid Hurricane Ike, and one played in wind and rain, Air Force ran the ball 71 times and failed to complete a pass for only the fifth time in school history. Houston gained 534 yards to the Falcons' 330, but in the fourth quarter Air Force intercepted Houston at the Air Force 23 to cling to their 10-point lead, making the Cougars' touchdown with 3:38 remaining a case of too little, too late.

Next up: versus #22 Utah in what should be a great early season conference matchup.

Wyoming 16, North Dakota State 13

The Cowboys treated the home crowd to a major struggle with an FCS foe, not exactly what embattled coach Joe Glenn needed to extend his tenure. Even worse, it was clear the visiting Bison outplayed the Cowboys. North Dakota State is a good FCS team, but they're still an FCS team. Furthermore, it was only in 2004 they moved up from Division II to I-AA. Even though Wyoming isn't Michigan (even this year), no major college program can lose to a lower division foe – especially at home – without major embarrassment.

The Bison led 10-0 at the half, had 313 yards of offense to Wyoming's 266, and were kept from victory only by four turnovers. The most costly came with 1:55 left in the game. With the score tied 13-13, the Cowboys took over at their own 13 with 7:48 left, needing any score to win the game, but couldn't get it done. After 11 plays North Dakota State forced a Cowboy punt and had their own chance for a major win, starting at their own 19. Following an 11-yard run and an incomplete pass, Wyoming picked off a Nick Mertens pass at the Bison 30, worked the ball down to the 12, and kicked the winning field goal with four second left.

Next up: After struggling mightily at home against an FCS foe, the Cowboys get to try their hand at sky-high BYU.

UNLV 23, #15 Arizona State 20 (OT)

Coach Mike Sanford said his Rebels believed they could win, and he knew they would. It's unlikely anyone else did, but they're believers now. Sun Devil coach Dennis Erickson called the loss a nightmare and sickening, and offered himself as a sacrifice, saying he failed to get his team ready to play.

Undoubtedly, ASU was looking past UNLV to next week's visit by #2 Georgia, but whatever the cause, they were clearly outplayed by the visiting Rebels. On a do-or-die drive with just 2:45 remaining, Omar Clayton completed 6-of-8 passes for 70 yards, culminating in a leaping one-handed grab by sensational hometown freshman Phillip Payne from eight yards out to force overtime. The Sun Devils won the toss and forced the Rebels to go on offense first. They held UNLV to a field goal, but the Rebels not only matched that feat but blocked the ASU attempt to win the game.

UNLV was certainly ready to play. For the first time this season they stopped an opponent in the red zone - forcing ASU to settle for a field goal on its first drive after a first-and-goal from the nine - after going in to the game tied for last in the nation in red zone defense.

On offense the Rebels had 20 first downs to the Sun Devils' 18, had 32:32 of ball possession and were nearly even in total yards, 345 to 373. Finally, when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, UNLV simply took the game away from Arizona State, running 28 plays in that quarter alone and allowing the Sun Devils only eight.

Next up: versus Iowa State.

San Diego State 10, San Jose State 35

A remarkable day for the conference would have been perfect if not for San Diego State, the only conference school to lose this week. The Aztecs' lone first-half score came on an ill-advised Spartan play. Leading 21-0 late in the second quarter, San Jose State forced a three-and-out. At their own 27 with 1:29 remaining, the Spartans should have been content to run the clock out, but no. On the first play from scrimmage Kyle Reed was intercepted by Aaron Moore who took it to the end zone.

Not to worry, however. In the second half the Aztecs could muster only a lone field goal. The Spartans owned SDSU, rolling up 22 first downs to 7, 476 yards to 146, and 40:10 of possession to only 19:50.

Next up: a bye, followed by the Idaho Vandals.

New Mexico 36, Arizona 28

Arizona has been the "experts'" favorite sleeper for two years now. Maybe this time they'll learn. After feasting on Idaho and Toledo at home, the Wildcats summoned up the courage to travel to Albuquerque. The Lobos spotted the visitors a 7-0 lead, but came back to lead at the half 20-14, highlighted by a 25-yard touchdown pass from running back Rodney Ferguson to quarterback Donovan Porterie.

On the first play from scrimmage in the second half Arizona fumbled at their own 39, which the Lobos returned to the Wildcat 10, scoring on the next play to lead 27-14. New Mexico eventually led 36-21 with only 5:50 to play, but a short kickoff and decent runback gave the Wildcats the ball at their own 34. They needed just five plays and 1:22 to drive 66 yards to pull within eight, and then held the Lobos to 11 yards on their next possession, forcing a punt with 1:34 remaining. It wasn't a good one, rolling dead at the Arizona 38 with 1:26 to play, but Willie Tuitama completed only one of his next four passes, for nine yards, and the game was over.

Next up: at Tulsa.

Colorado State did not play. They will host Houston this Saturday.

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