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BYU defense is getting job done

PROVO — Entering BYU's game last Saturday at New Mexico, many wondered how the BYU defense would fare against a similar team, at least athletically, to Tulsa, which victimized the Cougars to the tune of 595 yards of total offense and six touchdowns in 55-47 loss two weeks earlier.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall insisted he was accountable for the abysmal defensive performance against the Golden Hurricane because he didn't have his team prepared. He added that he expected the defense to play the way it did against Arizona, UCLA and Air Force.

Turned out, he was right.

The Lobos gained 364 yards of total offense, and 71 of those came on a touchdown-scoring screen pass to Rodney Ferguson. Other than that, and an 18-yard completion, the Cougar defense was stingy in a 31-24 triumph.

"As a unit, the defense has played very consistently with the exception of that one game (against Tulsa)," Mendenhall said. "The rest are about the same. I think that's what you'll see the remainder of the year. The linebackers are what allow us to do that. We have enough depth and leadership there where they force the team to practice and perform in a way that will resonate consistency as we get to the end of the year."

Much had been made of the Lobos' speedy wide receivers, Marcus Smith and Travis Brown. Combined, they had 87 yards on 12 catches. And that was with starting cornerback Ben Criddle remaining in Provo to recover from an ankle injury.

In Criddle's place, senior Andre Saulsberry made his first career start and turned in a solid effort that reminded Mendenhall of Cole Miyahira's performance last season in the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon.

Criddle was also sidelined for that game due to a foot injury and Miyahira, then a senior, stepped in. The Cougars limited the Ducks' explosive offense to 166 yards passing and 260 yards of total offense.

"I was really impressed" with Saulsberry's outing, Mendenhall said. "We put him in there and expected him to do well and he did. He helped us win the game. It was neat, as a coach, to see a young man who has worked so hard get an opportunity and to perform well."

WEEKEND PLANS: Besides watching LDS General Conference, BYU linebacker Bryan Kehl is planning on watching as much football as he can Saturday, taking advantage of the bye week. One of the games he's looking forward to is the TCU-Wyoming contest.

"I watch every game I can in the conference," he said. "It's something I like to do because I'm a football fan. But also it's prepping for the future. I watch all the games."

The Cougars play TCU and Wyoming in back-to-back weeks in November. The Horned Frogs come to Provo on Nov. 8 and BYU visits Wyoming on Nov. 17. Which team does he think will win the TCU-Wyoming game?

"That's a tossup. It could go either way," Kehl said. "If I had to pick somebody, I would say TCU. I wouldn't bet on it because Wyoming's a tough place to play. It's not November yet."

ON THE GROUND: The Cougars gained 112 rushing yards in the win over New Mexico. Since the 1991 season, BYU is now 93-18 when rushing for at least 100 yards. Under Mendenhall, the Cougars are 17-3 when rushing for more than 100 yards in a game.

A REAL TEST: BYU senior defensive lineman Judd Anderton took the LSAT on New Mexico's campus before the game, early Saturday. He had been preparing for nine months for the exam. Anderton was chosen by his teammates to carry the "Y" flag onto the field prior to kickoff.


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com