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Crowton's Cougars back to .500

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — They're back to .500, a first for BYU football this deep in a season since head coach Gary Crowton's first season in 2001.

And now it is time to rest.

After defeating Air Force 41-24 with a 38-point second half explosion, the Cougars are 4-4 overall and are in second place in the Mountain West Conference with a 3-1 record.

BYU's next game is Nov. 6 at home against San Diego State after taking this coming weekend off.

"What we're going to do is heal up, get a lot of treatment," Crowton said of BYU's bye week, the first break for the Cougars since opening up against Notre Dame on Sept. 4.

"Academically we're going to stress that the players work hard on their studies and what they have to do in the classroom. We're practicing and we'll be working on timing and rhythm without much hitting, and then our coaches will recruit and get a look at our recruiting class and the future."

Receiver Todd Watkins, who had six catches for 153 yards and a 70-yard touchdown against the Falcons, agreed that he and his teammates are in need of a break. Watkins is now ranked No. 6 nationally in receiving yards per game, averaging 107.5 on 44 catches for 860 yards.

Said Watkins; "It's going to help me a lot with my shoulder. It will help a lot of guys because we have players nicked up all over the place. This is the perfect time to have a bye week for us."

It was Watkins long bomb scoring strike from quarterback John Beck on the second play of the second half that rocketed the Cougars past the Falcons, who led 10-3 at the break.

Prior to that, BYU's offense struggled.

Watkins said he and others told Crowton not to go away from that long pass play, which did not work in the first half with Beck misfiring with his timing.

"I told the coach we had that open in the first half and we went right back to it in the second half. John came out the second half and was perfect, but I almost dropped it," Watkins said.

Beck, who completed only half of 16 pass attempts the first half, hit on 12 of his next 15 — and one-third of those went for touchdowns, his best effort of his career. The Cougars gained 527 yards total offense on the Falcons.

"We have the potential to be a quick-strike offense and we also have the ability to move it down the field on the ground if we have to," Watkins said.

Crowton, who has praised his defense the entire season, said he sees progress in his offense, evidenced by the numbers. The Cougars rank 10th nationally in passing offense, first in the Mountain West with a 283 average. It has helped that the Cougar run game kicked in, led by Curtis Brown, who gained 128 yards on 22 carries Saturday.

If Beck, inconsistent the past three weeks, latches on to his experience at AFA in the second half, the Cougars should be favored to win their games against SDSU and New Mexico at home before finishing the season at BCS hopeful Utah.

"What John is doing is reading it well. He sees it," Crowton said of his sophomore quarterback. "But he's not confident in his reads, and what he's been doing is hold the ball and making sure he reads it.

"John is a confident kid but he was being a little over cautious, nothing to do with his confidence. I told him, you know it, do it, just stand up and fire it. The thing about John II saw in the second half is that he made those decisions and just fired it and he wasn't cautious.

"It's been a long time, but I think we're back on track where we want to be," said the coach.

Said Beck: "We were barely missing and things weren't clicking. We came out the second half and wanted to play how we practiced."

If Beck had linked up with Watkins and others in the first half, the Cougar numbers would have been more impressive than the 354 yards passing against AFA. On one first-quarter play, the sun got in the eyes of Watkins in what appeared to be a sure long touchdown bomb.

"That was really hard," Watkins said. "Because in the first minutes of the first half the sun was right in my eyes. I looked back and I couldn't see it at all, all I saw was the sun up there.

"I think we were all a little shaky in the first half trying to get things down and John really stepped up the second half and started putting things right on the money."

Watkins senses BYU is finding a rhythm now league play is underway.

"We don't want to play down to our competitor's level, we need to play excellent all the time, that's what coach told us in the locker room at half. We couldn't wait to come back out, I couldn't wait to come back out in the second half and make some plays.

"The second half, we executed, that's all it comes down to. The same plays we tried in the first half that didn't work, we made in the second half because we executed."

Crowton praised junior quarterback Matt Berry for his spot appearance late in the game, hitting Antwuan Harris for a 35-yard gain, keeping a drive alive and the ball out of the hands of the Falcons who had just their 24th point in 35 seconds.

"I thought Matt Berry came in and did a good job, keeping the possession and making a completion to keep the drive alive. He hasn't had many chances and he played well for the time given.

Defensively, the Cougars limited the MWC's most accurate quarterback, Shawn Carney to 10 of 22 completions for 150 yards. Coming into the game, Carney had completed 70 percent of his passes.

Bronco Mendenhall inserted four linebackers into his defensive formations, using Matt Bauman, Mark Staffieri, Cameron Jensen and Brady Poppinga to stuff AFA's option attack and force the Falcons to go to the air more than they wanted.

Staffieri, a walkon freshman, led the Cougars in tackles with 10. Shaun Nua had two sacks and Brady Poppinga got one in the Cougar win.

The Cougars pulled the trigger on freshman tight end Dennis Pitta in the AFA game. Pitta, who is the best pass catching big man on the Cougar offense, has been playing behind Daniel Coats, the team's best blocking tight end. Coats suffered a hand injury in the game and Pitta stepped in and became a star with two touchdown catches and a blocked punt that teammate Gary Lovely returned for a touchdown.