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2011 Armed Forces Bowl Preview

BYU Cougars vs Tulsa Golden Hurricane

There's no service academy team in a bowl with a military flavor, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't expect a hard-nosed game on the final Friday of the year.

The Armed Forces Bowl inked BYU to a one-year bowl deal for 2011, and the bowl-eligible Cougars will face Tulsa from Conference USA in Dallas on December 30.

BYU finished 9-3 in its first season as an independent and is headed to a bowl game for the seventh-straight season, each year since Bronco Mendenhall took over as head coach. It has been an interesting year for the Cougars, as they were in the middle of both Big 12 and Big East expansion talks. As the Cougars stick with independence, highly-touted recruit Jake Heaps struggled to take hold of Brandon Doman’s new system and lead his team by example. He was benched for junior Riley Nelson mid-way through the season. Despite Heaps later leading BYU to two 42-7 wins with Nelson injured late in the year, Nelson was reinserted as starter for the final game against Hawaii. With many factors coming to a head, Heaps announced his intentions to transfer. His landing spot is unknown at this time.

With the quarterback controversy of the last two seasons behind BYU, Nelson has this bowl and one more year to be the leader. He completed 61% of his passes while posting a 16-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Nelson’s ability to run (five yards per carry), or at least prolong plays with his feet, has proven valuable to the BYU offense. Its offense opened up when the run game started working, which coincided with the decision to give converted linebacker Michael Alisa (455 rushing yards) the majority of the carries midway through the season. Sophomore receiver Cody Hoffman is leading the team in receiving yards for the second-straight year with 821 yards. Ross Apo is BYU’s red-zone threat, catching nine touchdowns on the year.

On the other side of the ball, BYU has had a stout defense, especially against the run, against every team except for in the Utah blowout. The Cougars’ total defense ranks 17th in the country, and boasts a number-seven ranking in pass efficiency defense. While the Cougar D did feast on some lower-tier WAC fodder, it did also hold TCU well below its yard average.

Tulsa comes to the game with a battle-tested 8-4 record. Each of the Hurricanes’ four losses came to an opponent ranked in the top-10 at the time, opponents with the combined record of 43-6 (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Boise State, and Houston). Tulsa’s 7-1 conference record lifted it to the 8-4 season. Quarterback G.J. Kinne has shaken off injury for a solid senior year, throwing for 2,876 yards and 25 touchdowns. But the Hurricanes’ tick not on the pass like in the past, but on the run. Ja’Terian Douglas (884 rushing yards) and Trey Watts (843 yards) lead Tulsa’s 25th-ranked rushing attack.

Defense is where Tulsa has struggled, against good competition at least. While solid against the run, Tulsa’s defense ranks almost dead-last in defending the pass. While this stat is skewed (because of Landry Jones, Brandon Weeden, Kellen Moore, and Case Keenum), it also means against capable offenses, Tulsa has struggled. BYU is somewhere between the weak-to-average offenses of Conference USA and the supreme offenses faced in non-conference and against Houston. BYU’s defense has fared well against similar rushing offenses against Utah State and TCU, but BYU has few, if any, quality wins. Tulsa is in the same boat. This bowl matchup is a good test for both teams.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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