BYU healthier after bye week


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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

PROVO, Utah (AP) -- A week off was welcome at Brigham Young.

Although the Cougars have won three straight, the momentum wasn't as important to the team as getting some rest before the second half of the season.

BYU is one of two teams without a loss in the Mountain West Conference and is in contention for its first league title in five years.

"When you're playing at a high level, you really don't want anything to interrupt that. However, I think this bye came at the appropriate time," coach Bronco Mendenhall said Tuesday.

BYU (4-2, 2-0 Mountain West) hosts UNLV (1-5, 0-2) on Saturday in the first of the final six games of the season. If the Cougars sweep all six, they win the Mountain West.

The halfway point turned out to be a good time for a week off. Quarterback John Beck had more time to rest his ankles and continue to heal from the sprain that kept him from playing against Utah State on Sept. 23.

The Cougars are still thin at running back, with Fui Vakapuna (ankle) and Manase Tonga (thumb) looking like game-time decisions Saturday.

Curtis Brown, who will have to handle more of the running duties if they can't play, said he expects to have Tonga lining up at fullback, but wasn't sure about Vakapuna.

Brown was just happy to have time to recover from an abdominal strain.

"It wasn't hard. I think the time was well deserved. We needed time to rest," Brown said. "You get banged up week to week. We had some injuries that we had to take care of."

Mendenhall said he won't hold his two fullbacks out if they are ready to play. If they need more time, reserves Joe Seminoff and Mike Hague could be on the field.

But Mendenhall doesn't plan to hold anybody back against the struggling Rebels.

"If they're cleared to play, I'm going to play them," he said.

The Cougars last played on Oct. 7, beating San Diego State 47-17.

Mendenhall was wearing a suit at his news conference Tuesday because he had just come from a student rally during homecoming week.

He said the last time he spoke to students was during halftime of a basketball game shortly after being promoted in December 2004. The Cougars have come a long way since then.

"The principles of the program are in place. We believe we're on the right track," Mendenhall said.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-10-17-06 1641MDT

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