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With Y. defense hurting, are shootouts on horizon?

BYU wide receiver Todd Watkins makes a fingertip grab good for a touchdown against TCU. Cougar quarterback John Beck says the offense could have done even more damage against the Horned Frogs.
BYU wide receiver Todd Watkins makes a fingertip grab good for a touchdown against TCU. Cougar quarterback John Beck says the offense could have done even more damage against the Horned Frogs.
Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

Is BYU headed for shootouts with opponents the rest of the season if the Cougar defense loses confidence or players due to injury?

Maybe.

Quarterback John Beck says no — BYU's defense will recover from the 51 points posted by TCU Saturday — but if a shootout is required, the offense has the bullets.

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall says he doesn't like shootouts, but if the Cougar offense starts posting big numbers, opponents will change their offensive strategy and his defense will get their biggest plays. And that will change how he manages the team.

This weekend could be the first peek at a potential shootout if BYU defenders don't recover from last Saturday's final 18 minutes in which TCU scored 35 points to defeat the Cougars 51-50 in overtime.

The Cougars travel to San Diego State where Aztec receivers Jeff Webb and Robert Ortiz are big-play veterans. On one of SDSU's first offensive plays in a loss at Ohio State, the Aztecs scored on a short pass turned into a scoring bomb.

Hands over eyes?

Well, on the other hand, SDSU ranks 98th nationally in scoring defense. Head coach Tom Craft conceded Alema Harrington on 1280 The Zone this week that he didn't think his defense could stop the Cougar offense.

John Beck is the NCAA passing leader in completions per game (32.33), and the Cougars are ranked No. 4, just ahead of USC in NCAA passing offense (367 yards per game).

Both Mendenhall and Beck believe BYU's offense is in a transition — its best games are still ahead.

The Cougar defense, as bruised as it got last Saturday in both pride and statistics, still ranks second only to Wyoming in MWC total defense and is 46th nationally, allowing 345.33 yards per game.

"It's my first time managing a defense where our offense has scored 50 points and did it quickly," Mendenhall said of the TCU game. "I've got to do a job managing this."

Shootouts on the horizon?

"The interesting thing now, as I look to manage the team, is that if our offense continues to improve like they did in weeks one, two to three, if that continues like it has at Texas Tech, then you look at managing the game and how the defense will now integrate and fit with the offense.

"Then, you are talking an entire program. So, let's say, on a regular basis, if you predict, we're up 21-0 multiple times or up 28-7 at halftime, the nature of plays that will be called against us changes completely with what has happened to us in the last couple of years. So, after all of that, as we formulate that is, what happens next?

"I hope it's not a shootout. All I care about it winning. But the nature of games now, as we all try and predict, will have a unique element to consider."

Beck says BYU's offense expects to score 40 and talks about going over 50 every day before seven-on-seven drill segments.

"We talked about scoring 50. It's a mind-set," Beck said. "I hope this team learned something from this and that we can come out pumped in every game and improve that confidence."

Beck quoted Shannon Sharpe as a key ingredient in what the Cougar mind-set will become.

"I remember Shannon Sharpe talking about his career and football. One of the things he said that I'll never forget is confidence will take you further than talent ever will, and it's true. You look at some teams like Boise State. You can't tell me that Boise State has more talent than all these teams they've whupped. But what they do have is confidence and they believe so much in their schemes, coaches, teammates and everything that they just go out and make plays."

Beck sees the progress, going from a staid, controlled but scoreless Boston College effort, flexing against Eastern Illinois and busting out for more than 600 total yards against TCU. He expects more because against the Frogs, three more plays could have netted 700 yards offense and 65 points.

Said Beck: "In looking back at BYU teams of old, they just continued to get better and they played great. Look at that 1996 team that lost to Washington but came back and went undefeated and got better and better and better. It is one reason you see USC and how great of a team they have become. Two years when we played them in Los Angeles, they weren't a great ball club, but what they did is get better and better and better each week. What I hope and expect we will do each week is believe in ourselves. When you believe in yourselves and you have confidence, you just get better and you make plays."

Beck said BYU's attitude on offense this week wasn't that they lost and heads hung down. "The attitude was we never should have lost, but we did, and we're very disappointed we lost. We should have thrown for 650 yards, ran for more , scored more and annihilated them. We know that it is that close, that it's on us.

"Some of those passes to Todd? When is the last time Todd dropped a pass like that? And that other long pass? It was just off his fingertips was just this close, and a couple of other ones that were this close. The defense had plays that were this close, inches at the goal line. This team sees that we're this close and we've just got to keep going up and up and up."

MWC PREDICTIONS: Well, the prediction business in the MWC is getting tough. Try guessing outcomes that involve overtimes and PATs these days. That's what this league has become.

This week's guesses.

AIR FORCE 28, COLORADO STATE 27: Take two teams that struggle to defend and you've likely got one more game headed for some kind of overtime. The Falcons showed a great weakness in pass coverage against Utah. Unless they fix the problem, the Rams could roll past them Thursday night on ESPN. But equally suspect is CSU's defense and if you give the Falcons a tiny crack, they bust up the dike.

NORTH CAROLINA 24, UTAH 21: This first big road trip for the Utes is a curious test for Kyle Whittingham's squad. Look for the distance of travel to take away a least one touchdown from what should be an even game at Chapel Hill. UNC is looking for payback and should get it in this rubber game in ACC territory.

WYOMING 38 UNLV 7: The Cowboys will roll in this game. Rebel quarterback Shane Steichen has a broken finger on his left hand, key in running the option. He may have surgery and be out for the season. This setback alone puts UNLV last in the league, and if the Rebels can't beat Nevada or Utah State, they're going to struggle winning any game this season.

TCU 28, NEW MEXICO 27: This will be one of those close MWC games that goes down to the wire. In wire acts, the Horned Frogs have proved they can outlast, outplay and out-ref-call every opponent in a close contest. They are deep, solid in the fourth and have last-second calls locked up.

BYU 42, SAN DIEGO STATE 38: This could be one of those classic Aztec-Cougar shooting contests like the one Ty Detmer found himself in the thick of in a 52-52 tie. Both defenses could come out bruised, and BYU's defense is already black and blue from one of the longest games in NCAA history (4 hours and 45 minutes). Look for Beck and Watkins to deliver the knockout blow in a place the Cougars have had great success over the years.

RECORDS: Last week 4-3; overall 18-10 (.642).


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com