PROVO — Curtis Brown isn't looking to run for a winning season or bowl game, or even a run at the Mountain West Conference title this week. He's got his eyes on the Air Force Academy come Saturday.
"We lost to them by 14 last year but as a freshman, the last time we were there, we lost 59-9 and I didn't like that feeling one bit," Brown said.
The Cougars (3-4) travel to Colorado Springs on Friday for the Saturday clash with the 3-3 Falcons. Both have 2-1 conference records. "This is a big game for us," BYU head coach Gary Crowton said.
"I'm anxious for an opportunity at some payback," Brown said.
Brown, a redshirt sophomore, gained 163 yards and scored a touchdown by throwing a pass and a run last Saturday in a Cougar win over Wyoming. He sees the Cougar offense making progress and more success with the run as an added weapon for opponents to worry about.
Brown explained Wednesday how BYU's confidence in the run game has progressed this season.
"The No. 1 thing we've done is put the past behind us. In the preseason, if you would have asked us, coming into conference, how much confidence would we have in the running game, we would have likely said: 'Not much.' That is because of the opponents, said senior guard Brian Sanders.
"Notre Dame and Southern Cal had two of the best front defensive lines around."
Said Brown: "We learned a lot from playing against Notre Dame, Stanford, Southern Cal and Boise State. I think what we've done is take our mistakes from those games and improved upon them. Coming into conference, we've looked at it as a new season for us. As an offense, we haven't looked back. We haven't got down on ourselves. We know we have a lot of talent, and we have only looked forward to the future."
Brown has gained 358 yards on 47 carries in MWC play for a 119 yard average per game. He believes the Cougars have shifted gears in the run game and are prepared to continue pushing that button when needed.
"I believe the confidence has always been there, but the opportunities haven't," Brown said. In BYU's previous four games, Brown gained just 90 yards on 43 carries. His production in the last three games is fourfold from what he had against Notre Dame, Stanford, USC and Boise State.
"I feel good about my confidence because we are making strides in that direction. These past three games I've shown I will do whatever it takes to help this team successful.
"I've worked hard and the entire offensive line has worked hard, opening up some huge holes and that's kept me humble too because I'm not doing it on my own. If you look at the last couple of games, the offensive line has opened up some incredible holes for us. Fahu and I have run hard, knowing the holes would be there."
On Air Force, Brown says he has nothing but respect for the Falcons, even if he believes they deserve a little pay back.
"AFA hustles a lot. The coaches have said they may have the best athletes in the world, but they always hustle. The No. 1 thing, when you talk about AFA is to compare them with Boise State.
"They hustle, they work their butts off and they get the job done and have good coaching. That's how we have to prepare for them, just like Boise State. We can't look at their athletes and be overconfident or cocky because they are going to play hard, too."
Brown said he's anxious to get to AFA. "I'm ready to get out there.
"My freshman year we lost the game 59-9 and it was really cold. I'm anxious to get out there. They talk so much trash. We are a different team than we've been the last two years. We are a lot more confident than we've been the past few years. Offensively, we have a lot of weapons to do what it takes to be successful."
COUGAR NOTES: Safety John Burbidge's injury to his right elbow might require surgery once the season is over, according to Crowton. "He's getting it taped up and has a brace that allows movement. I thought he played a great game against Wyoming." Corner Brandon Heaney (broken arm) will be out for six weeks.
SECOND LOOK: Sophomore quarterback John Beck will get his second look at AFA since he replaced Matt Berry last year before the Air Force game and playing the Falcons was his first league game. "I think he will understand the speed and tempo of playing against them, that you don't get as many possessions because of the way they play," Crowton said. AFA plays a 3-3-5 defense similar to BYU but it is a coverage philosophy the Falcons have developed from a press zone to more of a man-to-man like the Cougars, said the coach.
PLAY CALL GEM: In the Wyoming game, BYU's success with the run made it easy to call plays, according to Crowton. "Wyoming was really good for me as a play caller. Where we'd been getting two or three yards per rush earlier this season, in this game it was 7, 8 or 9 yards per carry and 7 was the norm. Yeah, that made it easier."
AFA SURPRISES: The Cougars are well aware of the Falcon's quick starts due to new formations sprung on foes. AFA jumped to a 14-0 lead on Utah and has similar success against Cal and UNM. The Falcons have outscored opponents 52-14 this season. "They've had two weeks to prepare for us, so know they have worked on some things to surprise us and we'll need to be ready, especially for the trick plays."