2007 Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl Preview
#17 Brigham Young (10-2, 8-0; Mountain West) vs. UCLA (6-6, 5-4; PAC-10)
December 22, 2007 @ 8PM (EST) – ESPN – Sam Boyd Stadium – Las Vegas, NV
BYU is flying high under third-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
For a second consecutive season, the Cougars opened with a 1-2 mark after suffering a couple of close losses. However, they also have the opportunity to do something else for a second year in a row and that is close the season with a ten-game winning streak.
The “Y” will have an opportunity to avenge one of its losses from this season when it makes a third straight trip to the Las Vegas Bowl and takes on the Bruins of UCLA. Last season, the Cougars laid a 38-8 whipping on Oregon in the Sin City and would love to do the same to the boys from Westwood this time around.
The schools met back in September and UCLA took advantage of three BYU turnovers to win 27-17 despite being outgained 435-236. However, both clubs have changed a great deal since then.
UCLA will be playing the game without head coach Karl Dorrell, who was dismissed after compiling a 35-27 record and five bowl trips in five seasons. The Bruins, who returned 20 starters from last year’s 7-6 team that beat rival USC, got off to a promising start. They sat at 5-2 overall and 4-0 in the league after seven games, but proceeded to lose four out of their last five—finishing tied for fourth in the Pac-10 after being predicted to contend. However, they were forced to settle for a third Las Vegas Bowl appearance in six years. The low point of the season was the 20-6 home loss to a Notre Dame team that had one of the worst records in school history at 3-9.
Cougar quarterback Max Hall was making just his second career start in the first meeting. Hall did throw for 391 yards, but made some miscues that he didn’t continue to make as the season progressed. He has thrown for just over 3,600 yards and has twice as many touchdowns (24) as interceptions (12).
Additionally, BYU fell behind 20-0 in the first meeting with UCLA; therefore, the Cougars weren’t able to run the ball as much as they would have liked to. Since then, the ground game has really taken off behind primary back Harvey Unga. Unga has not only rushed for 1,211 yards and 13 scores, but he has also caught 41 balls for 629 yards.
The Cougars’ receiving corps features five receivers with at least 30 receptions. Dennis Pita (54 for 775 and five scores) and Austin Collie (50 for 839 and six scores) highlight the group. They will be forced to go up against the ball-hawking corners of UCLA. The Bruins’ Trey Brown has five interceptions and 18 pass break-ups while Al Verner mans the other corner. The defensive backfield also includes first team All-American strong safety Chris Horton.
The secondary’s 13 interceptions are partially the result of the pressure applied on the opposing quarterbacks. Defensive end Bruce Davis has 9.5 of the team’s 36 sacks.
While the UCLA defense has been good enough to win with at times, the offensive has struggled quite a bit. The Bruins average only 333 yards and 23 points per game. A major contributing factor to their issues has been that injuries have caused them to play three quarterbacks and numerous running backs. The top two signal-callers—Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan—should be healthy for the game with the Cougars. Both Olson and Cowan have struggled with their efficiency. Olson has connected on only 48.3 percent of his 147 passes while throwing for 1,040 yards. Cowan has connected on 53.3 percent and has 12 less attempts. They’ve not exactly had all day to throw either, as UCLA quarterbacks been sacked 33 times.
When they do have time, the Bruins have some athletic receivers to throw to. Brandon Breazell has a team-high 47 receptions for 766 yards, but he’s only reached the end zone three times.
The Bruins will need to be sure to block BYU's Jen Jorgensen, who has 12 sacks and 18 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Jorgenson and the Cougars must get pressure to help out a “bend but don’t break” secondary.
BYU allows only 18.8 points and 307 yards per game. It holds opponents to a mere 92 yards on the ground and has 29 sacks.
For the Cougars to avenge the early season loss, they must protect the football this time and get pressure on the quarterback. If they can get an early lead and have success running the football, they should pick up their 11th win of the season.
The Bruins could certainly use some big plays in the kicking game by All-American return man Matt Slater and a productive passing game. Slater has taken three kicks back for touchdowns this season and his struggling offense could certainly use the aid of one against a BYU defense that limited UCLA to 236 total yards in the Rose Bowl in September.
BYU 27 - UCLA 20
by Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum
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