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BYU focused on Utah, not future bowl game

LARAMIE, Wyo. — There will be bowl representatives in Provo this weekend to look at the Cougars but BYU's collective football mindset is focused on one single task: beating Utah.

The Cougars' 35-21 win over Wyoming on Saturday lifted BYU to 6-4 overall and into sole possession of second place in the Mountain West Conference with a 5-2 mark behind league champion TCU.

Curtis Brown, who tied Luke Staley's school record for 10 games rushing of 100 yards or more when he gained 153 against the Cowboys, said going to a bowl and posting a winning record is fine, but there is still work to do.

"Having a winning season says a lot about our coaching staff, players and program. Our fans have stuck behind us 110 percent. We have another tough game coming up against Utah, but it is always rewarding to get a victory on the road."

Senior linebacker Justin Luettgerodt, BYU's defensive star of the game, concurred.

"We have a game left and we're not going to take that lightly, we're going to go to work," he said.

The Cougars got five turnovers from a slumping Wyoming offense that has now turned the ball over 22 turnovers the past five games. Luettgerodt recovered three fumbles and BYU's offense converted those miscues into 21 points. He also had an interception in the fourth quarter.

"It was reflective of Wyoming's past games and I'm sure it frustrated Wyoming's coaches and fans," BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said.

Wyoming coach Joe Glenn called it a bad dream.

"This is like a recurring nightmare. We're making things work on both offense and defense and then boom, fumble and then hey, score a touchdown. Then boom, fumble and they score another touchdown," he said. "We've worked on both the mental and physical part of the turnovers, but it's just killing us."

BYU's recent surge at gaining turnovers may be contributed to the squad's effort, but also the victims, who have been very giving. The Cougars used to rank among the last in Division I in getting turnovers. Today BYU is fifth in fumbles recovered, 62nd in interceptions (after ranking 117th four weeks ago), 22nd in most turnovers created and 33rd in turnover margin.

TCU leads the nation in turnover margin with a 1.82 rating. In the MWC, the Cougar defense now ranks second to the Frogs with a .50 margin over opponents. In games against AFA, UNLV and Wyoming, the Cougars have scored 52 points off opponent turnovers.

Quarterback John Beck, who, before the game at Wyoming, averaged 318 yards passing per game, has given way to a role as orchestrated of a balanced Cougar attack — throwing for just 179 yards against the Cowboys on 20 of 29 attempts. BYU has rushed for an average of 220 yards in four MWC games with 267 at Wyoming.

Beck, who threw to 11 different receivers, said the Cougars can still improve this week and he's looking forward to sharpening up the offense. "Our offense looks to spread it around and not just focus on getting the ball to one guy. When we do that, we also can run the ball which makes us more difficult to defend."

Mendenhall said 11 receivers catching balls against the Cowboys is what the BYU offense is designed to do.

"It's what our offense is about," Mendenhall said. "I'm not sure who you stop. . . . It's been a great lesson to me as a head coach to look out and see players who can catch and run with football at all positions. The catch Jonny Harline made in the end zone, that was a great player making a great catch."

There were other highlight grabs like the third-down conversion pass to Matt Allen, who jumped between two defenders to haul in a Beck pass while getting hit.

BYU's league-leading statistic of converting third downs rang true in the Cougar win. BYU's offense converted 11 of 16 third downs, just under 70 percent against the Cowboys.

"Our offense is exceptional," Mendenhall said. "They are coached well. They are patient and they have the talent to make big plays. Flat out, our offense is hard to stop."

As efficient as BYU's offense appeared, and Beck wants improvement. The entire Cougar squad left Laramie with plenty to work on.

The defense allowed 407 yards and the Cowboys averaged seven yards per play. Runningback Wynell Seldon's 69-yard touchdown run was the longest rush against the Cougar defense this year and it was his career best. The previous longest run was a 53-yarder by SDSU's Lynel Hamilton.

Mendenhall said this past week he was nervous.

"I had anxiety from Monday on," said the coach. "I've learned a lot this year and I'm still learning, I'm a work in progress as well. My nervousness reflects that. I was nervous from start to finish. I was nervous last week as I got accused of running up the score with a thought that they might be within striking distance."

Athletic director Tom Holmoe likes Mendenhall's approach — his team didn't read nervousness in the leader.

"I think one of the things that stands out is that this is a stable team," Holmoe said. "When we win big games in tight situations, they let their hair down for a few minutes in celebration and then it's back to the core. And then, if we lose a heartbreaking game and get down a little bit, they're back to the core. It reminds me how it used to be. LaVell wouldn't let his guys get too high or low but they stay close to the core."

Said junior linebacker Cameron Jensen: "A winning season is a great thing, every win is great, but my mindset is that the season isn't even close to being over. I want to win out. Yes, it's great to have a winning season, but that's not my goal just to have a winning season. My goal is to win every game and to win a bowl game and so we're not quite there yet. But to have a winning season when we haven't had one feels great.

"We have one more game left and that is Utah. Come Monday, it's back to work."


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com