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BYU football: The Cougars' 'Fantasic Four'

Each motivated in different ways

LAS VEGAS — To the BYU offense, they're the Fantastic Four.

Since they started playing together at the beginning of the 2007 season, quarterback Max Hall, wide receiver Austin Collie, tight end Dennis Pitta and running back Harvey Unga have made countless big plays, and they've helped lead the Cougars to 21 wins over the last two seasons.

For all of the success they've enjoyed, though, they've also battled adversity. Each is looking to bounce back from a 48-24 loss at Utah last month and finish the season with a victory against Arizona. And each has his own intriguing storyline entering Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl.

Wide receiver Austin Collie, a junior, has acknowledged recently that he could forgo his senior year for the National Football League draft. When asked Wednesday about his future, Collie didn't want to talk about the NFL because he said it hasn't been on his mind.

"All I'm focusing on is getting better this week and making sure I bring my 'A' game against Arizona and making sure the team is ready," Collie said.

Collie, who earned second-team All-America honors Tuesday, leads the nation in receiving yards (1,419) and yards per game (118.2). In three seasons, he has become the school's all-time leader in receiving yardage. He has accumulated 3,136 yards, surpassing the school record of 3,065 set by Eric Drage.

This record-breaking season started inauspiciously for Collie, who suffered a stress fracture in his leg before fall camp opened. After missing almost all of camp, he struggled early on, dropping a handful of passes at Washington.

Since then, he's been on a tear, putting together a current streak of 10 straight games with 100-plus yards, including a nine-catch, 156-yard performance against Colorado State.

Collie said he and his teammates are motivated to play well in the Las Vegas Bowl.

"This is a chance to prove ourselves again after the loss at Utah. Arizona is going to be ready to play," he said. "I think we're going to play one of our best games."

Saturday's contest could be a prelude to his senior year, or a final opportunity in a game situation to impress NFL teams.

Quarterback Max Hall

After a six-turnover performance against the Utes, the junior QB is eager to redeem himself Saturday.

"I'm hungry. I'm anxious. I have a sense of urgency to get back on the field and to play well," he said. "After my showing against Utah, obviously, I was glad that I had another chance to come out and play.

"That would be tough to end the season on a performance like that and have to think about it the whole off-season. Hopefully, maybe winning this game can maybe ease that burden a little bit, help me regroup and learn from my mistakes and get ready for next year."

Hall has thrown for 3,629 yards and 34 touchdowns this season, but many of his 13 interceptions and seven fumbles were costly.

That painful defeat to the Utes has been a motivator for Hall.

"After watching the film, this might sound weird, but I actually felt better because I realized we're a lot better team than how we played," he said. "I realized there were a lot of things we could have done differently.

"So in a sense, I was happy to see that there's room for improvement and a lot of potential for our football team and a lot of room for me to grow. I've got a long ways to go to be as good as I want to be."

Tight end Dennis Pitta

Late in BYU's victory at Air Force in mid-November, Pitta suffered a MCL sprain in his knee, which severely limited him in the Utah game. Pitta has worked hard rehabbing his knee to be ready to play Saturday.

"(The knee) feels pretty good," he said. "Obviously, it's not 100 percent. It's an injury that takes a couple of months to fully heal. I'm not going to have any limitations on Saturday."

Pitta, a junior, is wearing a brace on the knee, and he acknowledged that "it takes some getting used to. It limits my mobility a little bit. But it's something I have to wear to protect my knee. I'm going to do whatever I can to help our team be successful. I'm excited to be able to play and contribute as much as I will. I'm just happy to be healthy right now."

In the season-opener, Pitta caught 11 passes for 213 yards and finished the year with 78 receptions for 813 yards and six touchdowns.

He might have something to prove against Arizona. Wildcat tight end Rob Gronkowski caught 43 passes for 645 yards and 10 touchdowns (he missed three games due to an illness) and earned third-team All-America honors.

Asked about the snub, Pitta shrugged it off.

"It's not a real big deal," he said. "I don't let other people determine my success."

Running back Harvey Unga

Unga would probably like to forget most of last year's Las Vegas Bowl. Not only did he rush for only 16 yards on 17 carries — the worst outing of his career — but his fumble changed the complexion of the game against UCLA.

BYU led, 17-6, with 19 seconds remaining in the first half when, instead of taking a knee, the Cougars decided to hand off to Unga, who fumbled the ball. The Bruins recovered and ended up scoring.

It took a last-second block of a UCLA field goal attempt to preserve a BYU victory. Unga said he would have blamed himself had the Cougars lost. Of course, he is hoping for a much better performance against Arizona.

"I'm praying for a big game," he said.

This season, Unga, who has rushed for 1,061 yards and 10 touchdowns, has dealt with shoulder and ankle injuries and neck stingers. Yet Unga is coming off a strong game against Utah, rushing for 116 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries.

"I feel that I've been blessed to have this time to rest and recuperate," he said. "For the most part, I feel good."

BYU (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5)

Saturday, 6 p.m. (MST)

Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas

TV: ESPN Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com