From Lubbock to Las Vegas...



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Back in the fall of 2005, BYU played its first game of the Bronco Mendenhall era with a brand-new offense coordinated by Robert Anae, recently arrived from Texas Tech. The quick-release spread attack resulted in a grand total of 3 points in a lackluster loss to Boston College in Provo. Within only a few games, BYU had already abandoned many of its new pass-happy principles and had returned to some of the ground-centric tenets of Lavell Edwards' most successful teams. The rest, as they say, is history, as a balanced BYU team has won 31 of its last 35 games.

In the fall of 2007, Arizona played its first game under new offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes--fresh from a coaching stint at Texas Tech, where he worked alongside Anae. The quick-release spread attack resulted in a grant total of 7 points in a lackluster loss to BYU in Provo. Within a season, the Wildcats, too, found balance, and the results have been impressive. Last season, Arizona threw 524 passes to only 329 runs, and ended with the 114th best rush numbers nationally in going 5-7. This year, the numbers are 476 runs and only 377 passes, and the Wildcats' rushing yardage total is up more than a thousand yards from last season, ranking 48th nationally now. Behind a more power-focused offensive attack, Arizona has won 7 games for the first time in 10 years.

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Both teams have modified their Texas Tech-inspired principles to the personnel each team possesses. BYU favors the pro-style, two-back and/or two tight end approach, while Arizona features a single back/h-back, slot receiver philosophy that takes advantage of shifty pass catchers like all-Pac 10 performer Mike Thomas.

Both teams are prolific point producers (Arizona: 37.1 pgg; BYU: 35.3 ppg), and both have come a long way from their first attempts to spread it around in a pass-happy scheme. In the end, both teams found their winning formula by going "back to the basics," which include the time-tested truism, "if you can run, you can win."

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Record Watch:

Austin Collie (95 receptions in 12 games) needs 5 catches to tie Jay Miller's BYU record for receptions in a season. Miller had 100 grabs in 11 games back in 1973.

With his next catch, Collie will break a tie with Matt Bellini for most career receptions at BYU. Collie and Bellini are at the top of the tally with 204 catches.

If Collie can rack up another 100-yard receiving game, he will tie the NCAA record for most consecutive 100-yard receiving games, with 11--a record set by Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree.

Collie is already second alltime on BYU's career all-purpose yardage list. He is 542 yards away from Curtis Brown's school record of 4,993 all-purpose yards.

Collie and Dennis Pitta have together broken the BYU record for most receiving yards by two receivers. In 1990, Andy Boyce and Chris Smith set the mark of 2,397 yards. Collie and Pitta this season have combined for 2,444 receiving yards.

Max Hall is 32 pass completions away from breaking John Beck's MWC record for single-season completions. Beck set the record of 331 back in 2005.

Hall stands a chance of passing up both Marc Wilson and Steve Young on the BYU career passing list tomorrow night. Hall is 9th alltime, with 7,477 yards.

8. Wilson 7,637

7. Young 7,733

6. Feterik 8,065

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With Hall's 5 interceptions against Utah, he joins a distinguished list of BYU QBs who were picked off at least five times in a game. Ty Detmer (5 v. Oregon in 1990), Steve Young (6 v. Georgia in 1982) and Marc Wilson (6 v. Wyoming in 1977) all had "one of those games" at least once in their careers. The BYU record for interceptions thrown in a game is 7, set by Jim Eccles, v. Utah, in 1948.

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BYU's loss to Utah last month represented the first time a Bronco Mendenhall team lost a game in which it ran for at least 200 yards. Bronco had been 10-0 in such games since taking over as head coach.

Since 1972, BYU has run for 200 yards or more exactly 100 times. BYU is 93-7 in those 100 games.

Since 1972, BYU has never, ever lost a game when running for 200 yards and passing for 300 yards (35-0). BYU ran for 205 and passed for 214 at Utah.

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BYU has exactly as many penalties (91) through 12 games as the Cougars had in 13 games last year.

The most common infraction this season was "personal foul," with 22 occurrences. "False start" was the next most common, with 20, while BYU was flagged 17 times for holding.

In 2007, the Cougars' most common infraction was holding, with 25 flags, while BYU had 20 false starts and only 13 personal fouls.

Notably, BYU's offense picked up 19 holding flags last season, but only 8 this year, and I don't think there was a single call on the offensive line. I can't imagine a team going 12 games without an offensive lineman called for holding. All of the holding calls this year were against tight ends or wide receivers.

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Many "Un"-happy returns: BYU and Arizona have gone a long time since returning a kickoff for a touchdown. BYU last took it to the house on a kickoff on October 17th, 1998, at Hawaii. Arizona last went all the way on September 3rd, 1998... at Hawaii. BYU has now gone 130 games since their last kickoff return TD, and the Wildcats have gone 128 games without housing a kick return.

When it comes to punt returns, though, watch out. Arizona's Mike Thomas has two punt return touchdowns this season, and as a team, Arizona's punt return average (18.5; ranked 2nd) practically matches its kickoff return average (19.1; ranked 107th)

Conversely, BYU's punt return game is anemic (3.8 yds/return; ranked 118th), while kickoff returns have been consistently productive (25.2 yds/return; 6th). The reason that number is so high is thanks to Austin Collie, who isn't nationally ranked in kickoff returns because he had only 14 on the season. But he averaged 30 yards a return, and while I know the coaches worried about him getting hurt on punt returns, he probably should have been used there this season, at least on occasion. Mike Thomas is Arizona's go-to receiver, too, but his return talents were too prolific to be wasted, and he has sparked the Wildcats all season on punt returns. BYU has settled for merely "catching" punts, when Collie could have been actually "returning" them.

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Flying into a Las Vegas blanketed in white was a new experience yesterday. By the time I touched down, the sun was out and things were warming up, but snow was all around the city, and the surrounding mountains did their best Wasatch and Oquirrh range impressions.

The forecast for gameday calls for a high of 46 degress--about 10 degrees below normal. Kickoff temperature is predicted to be 43 degrees, with 36 degrees at game's end.

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I'll be attending the Las Vegas Bowl Kickoff Press Conference later this morning at the Las Vegas Convention Center. I'll post the podium interviews to "Cougar Tracks" soon thereafter, so check back later for those.

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