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BYU football: Pitta returning to site of 1st huge game for BYU

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PROVO — When BYU visited Air Force four years ago, Dennis Pitta was an obscure freshman on the Cougars' roster, a former walk-on who had been converted from wide receiver to tight end.

On that October afternoon in Colorado Springs, Pitta exploded onto the scene, catching two touchdown passes. He also blocked a punt on special teams that resulted in another BYU TD.

That performance was simply a foreshadowing of what was to come.

When the Cougars meet Air Force on Saturday, Pitta returns to Falcon Stadium an inch taller and 40 pounds heavier than he was in 2004. After his freshman campaign, he left for a mission to the Dominican Republic. Since returning in 2007, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior has caught 126 passes for 1,692 and 11 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection last season and is a Mackey Award candidate this year.

Certainly, Pitta has risen from obscurity since BYU's 41-24 victory over Air Force in '04.

"I don't remember much about that game. It was four years ago," Pitta said. "I do remember those touchdowns and the blocked punt. It was a good feeling to be able to contribute to the team that much, being a freshman at the time. I have good memories of that stadium. I'm excited to go back there and play."

Those two touchdowns were the first ones of his career and the first ones of the season by a BYU tight end, though Pitta said he wasn't necessarily part of the game plan.

"It just worked out that way. We were at that point of the season where (former Cougar tight end) Dan Coats was getting banged up and I was getting more reps. I was able to take advantage of some of the opportunities I got in that game."

Then again, BYU tight ends have traditionally put up big numbers against Air Force. The Falcons' linebackers and safeties have had a difficult time matching up with Cougar tight ends.

Just last season, Pitta caught five passes for 114 yards in a 31-6 triumph over the Falcons. In 1984, David Mills torched Air Force for a career-high 225 yards. Doug Jolley enjoyed a career day against the Falcons in 2001, hauling in 10 passes for 177 yards (which was an MWC record at the time). Two years ago, Jonny Harline had four catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.

AGAINST CUT BLOCKS: If BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall had his way, he would cut out cut blocks.

The Air Force offense is notorious for using cut blocks — blocking below the knees in the open field — against its opponents. While cut blocks are legal, Mendenhall doesn't believe they should be allowed.

"I'm just not proponent of the block ... I don't think it's good for the game, and I think it puts our players at risk," Mendenhall said.

"I'm not saying Air Force is cheating or doing anything unethical, but if I were to have a say in the rules committee or just in general, I don't think the block is necessary. Certainly it is effective and certainly it is difficult to defend, I'm just not a proponent of it."

FALCONS VS. RANKED TEAMS: BYU is the second ranked team Air Force has faced this season. The Falcons lost to then-No. 20 Utah in September. They are 14-61-4 all-time against ranked opponents. Air Force's last victory against a ranked team came in 2002 when it downed No. 23 California, 23-21. The Falcons haven't beaten a ranked team at home since 2000. That year, they defeated No. 20 Colorado State, 44-40.

Cougars on the air

No. 16 BYU (9-1, 5-1)

at Air Force (8-2, 5-1)

Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Falcon Stadium, Colorado Springs


Radio: 1160AM, 102.7FM

Live game blog: deseretnews.com/blogs TARGET=_blank>deseretnews.com/blogs

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com