VIDEO: Victory in N.M. marked a turning point for BYU coach

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By TIM KORTE AP Sports Writer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- It was a vintage Brigham Young comeback, the kind that defined the program during its glory years under former coach LaVell Edwards.

More than that, BYU's last visit to Albuquerque marked a breakthrough for rookie coach Bronco Mendenhall, the former New Mexico defensive coordinator who was off to a rough 1-3 start in his first season.

New Mexico (3-1) and BYU (2-2, 1-0 Mountain West) meet again Saturday night, and Mendenhall was asked what he recalls about his team's thrilling 27-24 win in 2005.

"I remember very little about the game," he insisted. (story continued below video...if video does not display, CLICK HERE)

Then Mendenhall ticked off the highlights: -- New Mexico was poised to extend a 24-13 lead early in the fourth quarter when the Lobos fumbled inside BYU's 10. Markell Staffieri recovered for the Cougars.

-- BYU's John Beck directed a 93-yard drive, capped by Curtis Brown's 9-yard TD run that cut the deficit to 24-19 with 7:15 remaining.

-- The BYU defense allowed a few first downs but forced a punt, giving the Cougars possession at their own 20 with 2:48 left. Beck was 5-for-5 on the last drive, throwing a 23-yard TD strike to Matt Allen with 1:40 to go. Brown added a 2-point PAT run.

-- New Mexico could have forced overtime with a field goal and reached BYU's 47 before turning the ball over on downs with less than a minute remaining.

"I remember hugging my wife," Mendenhall said. "Those are the only things I remember about that game. But I do remember we were 1-3 and I wasn't being viewed as being very successful. A lot of people were questioning the program and myself."

Just look at BYU since then.

Including that victory, Mendenhall has gone 18-7 with two postseason appearances, beating Oregon in last year's Las Vegas Bowl, and the Cougars are riding a nine-game winning streak in Mountain West action.

Fast-forward to this fall. Are the Lobos facing their own potential springboard as they begin conference play?

New Mexico has won three straight after an opening 10-6 loss at UTEP. The offense under first-year coordinator Dave Baldwin is rolling and leads the Mountain West with a 34.3 scoring average. BYU ranks second at 28.8.

The Cougars lead the conference in total yards per game, a 493.3 average, with the Lobos second at 449.8.

"They're tough," Mendenhall said. "It is going to present a number of challenges. With the start they are off to, I think New Mexico could weigh in heavily in how this conference race shapes out."

New Mexico's defense, meanwhile, allowed just 104 yards in last week's 58-0 win over Sacramento State.

BYU's offense will be a much tougher test. Max Hall, successor to the graduated Beck, has thrown for 1,509 yards and 10 TDs in four games, but burly backs Harvey Unga and Manase Tonga are a bigger concern for the Lobos.

"They're big and strong and they've got a little ability to make you miss," New Mexico coach Rocky Long said. "Most of the time when you tackle them, you're the one that's taking the lick when you get them to the ground."

There's an avalanche of story lines for this one.

A sellout crowd of 40,094 is expected and New Mexico is seeking its best start during Long's 10 seasons. The Lobos opened 5-0 in 1997, the last season before Dennis Franchione -- now Texas A&M's coach -- left for TCU.

There's a healthy rivalry between the schools. The Cougars clinched last season's Mountain West title with a 42-17 home win over the Lobos, gaining 653 total yards -- the most ever allowed by Long's defenses at New Mexico.

Long's teams have won twice in Provo since 2002, but he's 0-4 against BYU at home.

"We can't pay any attention to the history," New Mexico nose tackle Wesley Beck said. "All we can do is come out in the present. We've got to play this year's game because anything can happen in our conference. It's wide open."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-09-27-07 1607MDT

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