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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “‘Cats, Cougars to clash in Sin City”

    UA wide receiver Mike Thomas tries to juke a BYU defender during a 20-7 BYU win at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Sept. 1, 2007 in Provo, Utah. Thomas can end his career as the Pacific 10 Conferences all-time leader in receptions if he makes four grabs against the Cougars on Dec. 20 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
    UA wide receiver Mike Thomas tries to juke a BYU defender during a 20-7 BYU win at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Sept. 1, 2007 in Provo, Utah. Thomas can end his career as the Pacific 10 Conference’s all-time leader in receptions if he makes four grabs against the Cougars on Dec. 20 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

    For the third time in as many seasons, the Arizona football team will face off against BYU, but this meeting will be different from the previous two.

    Much different.

    The Wildcats (7-5, 5-4 Pacific 10 Conference) will make their first bowl appearance since 1998 when they take on the No. 17 Cougars (10-2, 6-2 Mountain West Conference) in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 20 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

    “”I look for this to be a very big game for us and I think our kids will be excited,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”This will be like a national championship game for us. … We certainly know what BYU can do to you if you’re not sharp.””

    The postseason game was a goal of Arizona’s at the start of the season, but this group wanted to accomplish more than it did this season.

    “”We’re going in there to play well. … Some people are just happy to be in a bowl game, and you go in there and don’t play well,”” Stoops said. “”I think wining the game is more significant that just playing in the game. … Another great accomplishment is to win your last game and that’s what we want to be able to do.””

    But it will be a tall task for Arizona as BYU won the last meeting between the two schools, 20-7, last season in Provo, Utah. The Cougars have many of the same key players from last year’s team, including star quarterback Max Hall and standout wide receiver Austin Collie.

    “”The same thing that are Max’s strengths – which are competitive spirit, good field vision, natural leadership and just a fiery, fierce disposition on the football field – can also be a weakness if he forces himself too far outside the system trying to make a play,”” said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. “”He’s one of the best leaders that I’ve ever been around and one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around.””

    Hall leads the MWC in total offense (302.4 yards per game) and Collie leads the nation in receiving yards with 118.25 yards per game. Hall has 15 touchdown tosses to Collie, and 34 overall with 1,419 of Hall’s 3,629 passing yards having gone to the junior from El Dorado Hills, Calif.

    But the BYU defense isn’t anything to scoff at either. The unit holds opposing teams to just 21 points per game (34th in the country), is ranked in the top half of the nation in overall defense (350.92 yards per game), and averages just shy of two sacks per contest (1.75). Much of that is a result of the Cougars’ big offensive and defensive linemen.

    However, Mendenhall did say they must take into account where UA tight end Rob Gronkowski is at all times.

    “”I have made calls to other Pac-10 coaches who have defended Arizona and when I first ask, ‘Tell me about Arizona,’ they say, ‘They’re a very good football team and they’re very talented,’ and one of the players they mention first is their tight end,”” Mendenhall said.

    What the Cougars have working for them is they’re looking to finish the season on a high note. BYU had plans on crashing the Bowl Championship Series party but losses to TCU and rival Utah derailed those hopes. This game is the last chance for BYU to prove it is as good a team as it thought it was at the start of the season, but they aren’t overlooking the Wildcats just because the Cougars won by 13 the last time the schools met.

    “”I do acknowledge that was their first game with a new offensive coordinator,”” Mendenhall said. “”We’re expecting a very difficult challenge against a team with good talent, and they’re much different than the team we prepared for that we beat at home last year.””

    This game should be entertaining, regardless of the perceived advantages for the Cougars.

    Arizona is ranked in the top 35 in total offense (401.25 yards per game), boasts the 16th-ranked scoring offense at 37.08 points per game and 20th ranked defense in terms of yardage (302.08) and allows a 21.33 points per game – all numbers similar to BYU.

    If the Wildcats can knock off the ranked Cougars and win the their first bowl appearance in a decade, it would truly signal the steps the program has taken in the past five years under Stoops.

    “”There’s a lot there to play for in this game. We’ve lost to three Mountain West teams in a row – BYU, and New Mexico twice,”” Stoops said. “”We’ve got a lot to prove and to win this game would be significant to get to eight wins.””

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