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COUGARS AND FANS WONDER: `WHAT HAPPENED?’

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Two words were on BYU football fans' minds everywhere Saturday afternoon.

"What happened?"Even the Cougar coaches and players were at a loss to explain the Air Force Academy's complete whitewashing of BYU, 38-12, in the season opener. The win ended 12 years of frustration for Air Force against the Cougars. Now it's BYU's turn to be frustrated.

"I was surprised Air Force was able to get that many yards, but they did a nice job," BYU coach LaVell Edwards said. "Why we had difficulty with (their wishbone attack), I don't know."

Said linebacker Shay Muirbrook, "I don't know what our problem was. Maybe were walking around with our heads down and we didn't play with emotion. Maybe we were overconfident."

If the Cougars were a bit overconfident, it wasn't without reason. BYU has had its way against Air Force. Before Saturday the Cougars hadn't lost in the state of Colorado in 20 years, going 16-0 during the span against Colorado State, Air Force and Colorado. The Cougars had scored 45, 28, 54, 49, 30 and 46 points in their last six trips to Falcon Stadium.

But Saturday the Cougars couldn't establish a running game, which forced them to pass almost exclusively in order to move the ball. As a consequence, extra pressure was put on new QB Steve Sarkisian, who was under a heavy Falcon rush all day. Sarkisian was tackled behind the line of scrimmage eight times for minus 43 yards.

The Cougar defense surrendered 298 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, but forced four turnovers. The Y. offense got the ball on the 49, 26 and 24 of Air Force, yet couldn't score and the Falcons led 21-0 at intermission.

"We weren't ready to play physically or mentally," said running back Hema Heimuli. "It's time to stop talking and time to start playing."

Said Muirbrook, "We didn't come to play. If we played Air Force again, it'd be a different story. It's not so much that they beat us, but more that we beat ourselves."

It won't get any easier for BYU. They face nationally ranked UCLA Saturday in Cougar Stadium. The Bruins, who beat the Cougars 68-14 two years ago, blew away Miami in their opener Saturday.

"If we play like that next weekend we're going to see an even worse score," said Cougar cornerback Dermmell Reed.

Last year the Cougars struggled in their opener, beating Hawaii, the WAC's worst team in '94, 10-9. Yet it's much easier to swallow a poorly played game if you win by a point than if you lose by 26.

"I never want to feel this way again," Muirbrook said. "We deserved to lose, the way we played."