Game Notes: Cat Fight in Las Vegas

In his first collegiate game, quarterback Max Hall threw 26-of-39 for 216 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats in 2007. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

FOR FOURTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR, COUGARS VEGAS BOUND

After its third straight 10-2 regular season record, No. 16 BYU has accepted an invitation to play Arizona in Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl XVII on Saturday, Dec. 20. The invitation marks the fourth straight appearance for the Cougars in Las Vegas and the team’s 27th overall bowl appearance since the 1974 season. The Wildcats, who earned their invitation by defeating arch-rival Arizona State, will play in the state of Nevada for the first time since traveling to Reno in 1924 and make their first postseason appearance since winning the 1998 Holiday Bowl. The MWC and Pac-10 have met the last six seasons in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl, with the MWC winning four times.

Game time is scheduled for 5 p.m. (PT) and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

THE BYU-ARIZONA SERIES

The 2008 Las Vegas Bowl will mark the 22nd meeting between these two teams. BYU and Arizona first met in 1936 in Tucson with the Wildcats running to a 32-6 victory. The Cougars won the first meeting in Provo back in the 1967 season, 17-14. Arizona owns an 11-9-1 advantage in the series, including a 16-13 victory in Tucson to open the 2006 season, while BYU returned the favor in 2007 with a 20-7 win in LaVell Edwards Stadium. Both members of the old Western Athletic Conference, the two teams met every year from 1962 through 1977. During that time, Arizona won nine of the 16 games. Dec. 20 will mark the first time these two teams will meet at a neutral site.

WHAT THE GAME MEANS

- A win against Arizona would give the Cougars their third straight bowl win, including their 10th bowl victory overall.

- A win against Arizona would mark the first time BYU has won three straight bowl appearances.

- A win over Arizona would secure the third straight season BYU has finished the season ranked among the nation’s top-25 programs. After a 38-8 win over Oregon in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl, the Cougars finished the season ranked 15th in the USAToday Coaches Poll and 16th in the Associated Press Top-25. The 2007 season ended with BYU ranked 14th in both polls following its nail-biting 17-16 win over UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl. The 1990-92 seasons marked the last time BYU finished the year ranked in the top-25 in three consecutive seasons.

- A victory over Arizona would give the Cougars a 5-1 record over teams from the Pac-10 over the past two seasons. Since 2007 BYU has posted a 4-1 record against the likes of Arizona (1-0), UCLA (2-1) and Washington (1-0). Interestingly, the Cougars have outscored Pac-10 opponents 141-77 in the previous five match-ups.

BECOMING BOWL ELIGIBLE

With a win against New Mexico on Oct. 11, the Cougars picked up their sixth win of the season and qualified to participate in their fourth straight bowl game for the first time since 1994 season. BYU has not played in four straight bowl games since playing in the 1991 Holiday Bowl, the 1992 Aloha Bowl, the 1993 Holiday Bowl and the 1994 Copper Bowl. From 1978 through 1994, the Cougars participated in a school record 17 straight bowl games. The 2008 season marks the third straight year BYU has qualified for a bowl game with more than four regular-season games remaining.

ANOTHER 10-WIN SEASON

The Cougars’ 38-24 victory over Air Force on Nov. 15 improved the team’s record to 10-2 on the season, marking the third-straight 10-win season and the 14th since the 1979 campaign. It is also the first time since the 1983-85 seasons BYU has had three consecutive 10-win seasons. BYU is one of only 15 Football Bowl Subdivision teams (out of 119) in the nation to win 10 or more games this season.

COMPETING AS A RANKED TEAM

After their loss at Utah, the Cougars are 148-43 when nationally ranked in the Top 25. A ranked BYU team has won 17 of its last 19 games, dating back to 2006.

YEARLY RANKED

This season BYU became one of only nine schools nationally to be ranked in the top 25 of the final BCS standings each of the past three seasons, joining Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, USC, Ohio State, Boise State, Boston College and Virginia Tech.

CONSISTENT WINS

Over the past three seasons only five teams have won more games than the Cougars. With BYU’s 32-6 three-year record, only Boise State (35-3), Florida (34-6), Oklahoma (34-7), Ohio State (33-5) and USC (33-5) have more victories over the past three seasons.

TALE OF THE TAPE

BYU’s starting five offensive linemen weigh in at an average 326.4 pounds and average 6-feet-6. The front five will be going up against an Arizona defensive front that measures an average 6-feet-2, 259 pounds. Defensively, the Cougars’ front three average 6-feet-3, 278 pounds, while the Arizona offensive line tips the scales at an average 6-feet-5, 313 pounds per man.

VERSUS THE PAC-10

After its 59-0 victory over UCLA on Sept. 13, 2008, BYU is now 5-1 in the last six meetings with Pac-10 opponents, including back-to-back wins against Washington and UCLA. Overall the MWC has a 6-1 record against Pac-10 foes this season.

The 59-0 final score between BYU and UCLA marked a new BYU record-high lead over a Pac-10 opponent. The Cougars’ largest lead prior to Saturday’s game was 31-0 against Oregon in the fourth quarter of the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.

TRAILING AT THE HALF

For only the third time this season and second consecutive game, the Cougars found themselves down at the halfway mark--entering the locker room behind the Utes 27-17. The Cougars last trailed 14-10 heading into the break at Air Force, as well as 23-0 at TCU. BYU is 1-2 when down at halftime.

KEEPING UP IN THE CLASSROOM

Academically, only Penn State (4) placed more student-athletes on the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-America First Team than BYU as starters David Oswald (offensive tackle), Matt Bauman (linebacker) and Kellen Fowler (safety) each earned the high honor. Dating back to 1966, 28 BYU football players have received Academic All-America honors but never before have the Cougars had three members earn first-team accolades during the same season.

CONSECUTIVE STARTS

The Utah game marked senior offensive lineman Dallas Reynolds’ 50th straight career start. During that streak, Reynolds has started at every position on the offensive line, including tackle, guard and center. Reynolds’ younger brother Matt started at left tackle in the 2008 season opener. His father, Lance, is the associate head coach for the Cougars. Reynolds is currently tied at first for the most consecutive starts by an active Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A) player. Reynolds has started in every game of his BYU career, beginning with the Cougars’ 20-3 loss to Boston College on Sep. 3, 2005.

THANK YOU SENIORS!

BYU’s seniors had a strong showing against SDSU, playing in their last home game in LaVell Edwards Stadium. Linebacker and team captain David Nixon led the defense with a career-high 14 tackles. Running back Fui Vakapuna recorded the first touchdown of the game on a seven-yard run. BYU’s first score of the second half came on a three-yard run by Wayne Latu, and wide receiver Michael Reed finished the game with a season-high 95-yards receiving.

FUMBLE RECOVERIES

Freshman defensive back Blake Morgan forced a fumble early in the third quarter against Air Force, which was recovered by freshman linebacker Spencer Hadley, his second recovery this season. BYU capitalized on the turnover, with Harvey Unga scampering into the endzone for a one-yard touchdown run, giving BYU a 24-14 lead. Morgan made the trip to Air Force in place of junior linebacker Shawn Doman.

TURNOVERS TRANSLATING TO POINTS

The Cougars last forced two Air Force turnovers, including Spencer Hadley’s fumble recovery and Brandon Howard’s 4th-quarter interception. In 11 games this season BYU has forced 27 turnovers, converting 18 of those into points. Of those 18 turnovers, 15 have resulted in touchdowns (105 points) for the Cougars.

HE WHO SCORES FIRST...

Louie Sakoda’s 37-yard field goal for Utah with 9:48 remaining in the first quarter marked the fourth time this season BYU has failed to score first. The Cougars previously gave up touchdowns to New Mexico, TCU and CSU and are now 2-2 when giving up the first points of the game. BYU has scored first in eight games this season, marking 30 times in the last 37 games. The Cougars are 28-2 in those 30 games.

COIN TOSS

The Utah game marked the seventh time this season BYU won the opening coin toss, with the Cougars electing to defer to the second half. BYU is now 5-2 when winning the opening toss.

IT’S BEEN A WHILE

BYU has been unable to return a kickoff for a touchdown for 130 consecutive games. Mike Rigell was the last Cougar to accomplish the feat, turning in a 96-yard touchdown in a 31-9 victory at Hawaii on October 17, 1998.

DON’T LOOK BACK

In the Bronco Mendenhall era, BYU is 33-4 when leading at halftime and 32-1 when taking a lead into the fourth quarter.

DOUBLE TIME

The Air Force game marked the second time this season both wide receiver Austin Collie and tight end Dennis Pitta finished the game surpassing 100-yards receiving, with 130 and 113 yards, respectively. The last time the duo accomplished this feat was on Nov. 1 at CSU. In that game Pitta recorded 175 yards, while Collie followed with 156 yards.

PAPER OR PLASTIC

Junior linebacker Matt Ah You’s sack against Utah’s Brian Johnson in the second quarter marked a career first. Through 12 games this season the Cougar defense has recorded 21 sacks. Junior defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen’s sack against CSU’s Billy Farris in the fourth quarter gave him 21.5 career sacks, breaking the previous MWC record of 20.5 he shared with New Mexico’s Michael Tuohy, TCU’s Chase Ortiz and former Cougar Brady Poppinga. Jorgensen added a second sack and forced a fumble with just 22 seconds remaining to help secure the win and bring his career sack total to 22.5. He recorded four sacks his freshman season in 2006, 13.5 his sophomore season and five to date in 2008.

FIRST HALF DOMINANCE

The Cougars held a lead at halftime against San Diego State, for the first time since the New Mexico game on Oct. 11. It marks the 17th time in the past 24 games BYU has held the lead at intermission. The Cougars have held their opponent to seven or fewer points in the opening half six times in 12 games this season. BYU is undefeated in those six games.

PLAYING UNDER THE LIGHTS

After its loss to TCU, BYU now holds a 1-1 record when playing night games. The Cougars’ game against Utah State (W, 34-14) marked BYU’s first night game of the 2008 season.

BLOCK PARTY

Senior linebacker David Nixon kept the Falcons off the scoreboard late in the first quarter after blocking a 54-yard field goal attempt by Lou Groza Award candidate Ryan Harrison.

As a team, BYU has blocked five kicks this season, surpassing the three blocks recorded in 2007. Along with Nixon, Bryan Kariya blocked a punt against UNLV, Jan Jorgensen blocked a potentially game-tying PAT at Washington, Russell Tialavea blocked a UCLA field goal attempt and Michael Alisa blocked a kick against New Mexico. The last time BYU recorded five or more blocked kicks in a season was back in 1998 (6).

PULLING OUT THE CLOSE ONES

After a close 45-42 victory over the CSU Rams, the Cougars have won eight consecutive games decided by seven points or fewer, including back-to-back nail-biters against UNLV and CSU this season.

UNGA SURPASSES 2,000 CAREER YARDS

With his 116 yards rushing against Utah, sophomore running back Harvey Unga now has 1,082 yards on the season, surpassing the 2,000-yard career mark with 2,319. Unga racked up 1,227 yards on the ground in his freshman season and 10 before redshirting the 2006 season.

LONGEST MARCH DOWNFIELD

BYU’s first touchdown drive against New Mexico of 95 yards marked the longest of the 2008 season in terms of yardage. The drive which lasted 5:04 minutes, ended with a one-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Max Hall to tight end Andrew George. The Cougars’ longest drive in terms of time off the clock was in the second-quarter of the UCLA game. The 13-play drive of 48 yards took 6:43 minutes off the game clock.

FUMBLES FOR THE SCORE

In the first quarter against Utah State on Oct. 3, sophomore defensive back Brandon Bradley recovered the first fumble of his career, returning it for a 38-yard touchdown. The touchdown marked the second straight game the Cougars scored off a fumble recovery, as fellow defensive back Scott Johnson returned a loose ball for a touchdown in BYU’s 44-0 victory over Wyoming on Sept. 20.

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