Cougars get back to business

With bye week over, BYU focuses on MWC title dreams

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 17 2006 1:56 p.m. MDT

PROVO — Quarterback John Beck spent part of BYU's bye week in the mountains, hunting deer. However, due to inclement weather, it wasn't exactly a successful trip.

"Saturday morning, it rained, snowed, hailed, you name it," said Beck, who went with his father, Wendell, and teammate Markell Staffieri. "It was pretty bad. We almost had to leave the four-wheelers up on the mountains because we were so worried about it being muddy coming down."

Monday, Beck and the rest of the Cougars were back at practice, preparing for Saturday's game against UNLV, and continuing their hunt for a Mountain West Conference championship.

"It was good to have the bye week to let people recover. But at the same time, you wanted to play," Beck said. "I think going into this week, our team is very excited about the second half of the season and wanting to start off good with a good game Saturday against UNLV."

"It seems like a long time since we played," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "The players ran around with a lot of energy today and excitement. We're anxious to play. I think our players are hungry and we're anxious to take on the next part of the season."

The Rebels, who own a 1-5 record overall and have lost five straight games, fell in overtime last Saturday to New Mexico, 39-36.

"I believe they're improving," Mendenhall said. "I think the game against Colorado State and the game against New Mexico were hard-fought contests that weren't determined until the very end or close to the end."

While the Rebels are floundering at the bottom of the conference standings, Mendenhall is keeping his team focused. Next week, BYU travels to Air Force, which, like the Cougars, is undefeated in MWC play.

"There are no easy Saturdays. Our team understands that, our coaches understand that," Mendenhall said. "Any team on any given day in this conference can beat another. It's not a problem of focus. We understand that to win a league championship and to reach our goals, it's each and every week being completely focused on that opponent. That's what we are now. (UNLV) is capable, athletically, and schematically, through their coaching, to play very well. We don't anticipate any problem in terms of focus."

While Mendenhall said he doesn't talk to his players about other teams in the league, except for the upcoming opponent, he does show them the conference standings.

"Each time I put it up there, I tell them the only team that matters is us," he said. "The rest of it will play out as it plays out. We can control our destiny by the way we play each and every Saturday. That's as far as we go."

There is some added motivation for the UNLV game, Beck said. The Rebels have defeated the Cougars in their last two trips to Provo, in 2002 and 2004. Beck was in the stands, watching the game as a spectator, in 2002 when BYU fell, 24-3. He was the starting quarterback in 2004, when UNLV forced six fumbles, and recovered four of them, in a 24-20 Rebel victory.

"That year, UNLV had one win coming into the game and we turned the ball over like five or six times," Beck said. "For those of us that were on the team then, we definitely remember the feeling. We all saw (UNLV) play against New Mexico (last Saturday). UNLV has been playing good the last couple of weeks and you can't take anyone for granted. We have to prepare for their best game and we have to come out and play our best game."

Mendenhall was New Mexico's defensive coordinator in 2002 and doesn't know much about that BYU-UNLV contest. He remembers the 2004 defeat, but he said he and his players aren't dwelling on that.

"It seems like a long time ago to them and to me," he said. "This is a new season, this is a new team. That's the only thing that's relevant. They're not looking past this program or any other. We expect a difficult contest and we have to prepare as well as we can and that's what our players are ready for."

INJURY REPORT: Linebacker Aaron Wagner (ankle sprain) and running back Fui Vakapuna (ankle sprain) are both listed as day-to-day. Mendenhall doesn't know if they'll be available to play on Saturday.

Fullback Manase Tonga, who suffered a fractured thumb in the win over San Diego State, underwent surgery last week. Doctors inserted a screw in his hand and he will be fitted for a playing cast on Thursday.

Offensive linemen Jake Kuresa and Ray Feinga, who have been battling injuries, practiced Monday.

Cougars on the air

UNLV (1-5, 0-2) at BYU (4-2, 2-0)

Saturday, 1 p.m.

LaVell Edwards Stadium

TV: The mtn.

Radio: 1160AM, 102.7FM


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com

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