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Opportunistic Luettgerodt is tough on turnovers

BYU linebacker recovers 3 fumbles, makes a pick

Linebacker Justin Luettgerodt celebrates coming up with a loose ball. He has picked up six turnovers the past three games.
Linebacker Justin Luettgerodt celebrates coming up with a loose ball. He has picked up six turnovers the past three games.
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

LARAMIE, Wyo. — Senior linebacker Justin Luettgerodt is ending his BYU career as a legal thief, a bandit, a robber, a talented felon of the positive kind.

He's everything the Cougars didn't have a month ago.

In the Cougars' 35-21 win over Wyoming on Saturday, it was one more string of holdups for Luettgerodt, who recovered three fumbles and intercepted Cowboy quarterback Corey Bramlet in the fourth quarter to preserve a convincing 14-point BYU win.

At times, it was tough to determine if Luettgerodt was stealing fumbles from the Cowboys or his own teammates. He'd rise from a pile of bodies and show the football like a golden egg.

"Oh, I took them from the Wyoming players," Luettgerodt said.

In the past three games, Luettgerodt has three interceptions and three fumble recoveries — a nice half-dozen turnovers. All have proven key in BYU's 5-0 run over MWC opponents leading up to the season finale at Utah this week in Provo.

"I like the way he plays. I like the passion he brings to the game," head coach Bronco Mendenhall said.

Luettgerodt, for all his packaged energy on the field, is humble in his larceny.

"I just got lucky being around the ball," he said. "I try to be around the ball all the time and when it popped loose, I just fall on it."

It doesn't appear to matter where Luettgerodt's crime scenes are located. Last week it was in warm Las Vegas. Saturday, it was high on the Wyoming plains at 7,220 feet with a wind-chill factor below 28 degrees and a wind whipping eyes dry and drawing skin taut with color.

"It was a great day to be playing football, man," Luettgerodt said. "The wind was howling, it was cold, and people's legs were turning purple. But I tell you what, it was a great victory and it was sweet."

Luettgerodt said he's only trying to play hard and is putting up an effort he wants to be known for — giving everything he has for the squad.

"It feels good to have this winning season, especially after being around last season and doing it with the same group of guys," he said. "To stand there with Bronco Mendenhall and look in his eyes and see what he believes in and do what he believes in is what it's all about."

Luettgerodt said you have to give credit to BYU players who are forcing the fumbles. He's only there to hold the bag at the end.

"Those others are the ones who make the plays," he said.

BYU's defense, the past three games, has realized how game momentum can change with turnovers and it's going for them full bore.

"We're looking at each other out there on the field," he said. "We're not out there saying 'Let's get a stop, let's get a stop.' We're out there yelling 'turnovers, turnovers.' "

Mark Staffieri caused one Cowboy fumble. The others were considered miscues by the Wyoming offense, which has been plagued with bad ball security through five straight losses after the setback to the Cougars.

The Cougars haven't been to a bowl since 2001 when a 12-2 team went to the Liberty Bowl without Luke Staley and lost to Louisville.

Since then, the Cougars have endured three losing seasons leading up to a coaching change last December when Gary Crowton resigned under pressure and Mendenhall took over.

"It's sweet, it's everything we've worked for and it feels exactly how we expected it to feel," Luettgerodt said. "It's great to do this with the same guys, to do it beside Mendenhall, to have it happen in his first year."

Luettgerodt said it will not be hard for the Cougars to celebrate the Wyoming win while putting in perspective bowl eligibility, a 6-4 record and all the feel-good emotion from the weekend heading into the season's final game with the Utes.

"If anything, we should feed off of this," he said. "Anyone on this team who isn't thinking that way shouldn't be on the team because that's just going to settle for what we have right now and put off the next game. This program isn't going to just go for 7-4 seasons. This program's going to go for undefeated seasons in the future and this is a process and we need to win out the rest of the season and set the table."


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com