Photo By Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
SAN DIEGO With Saturday night's 48-27 victory over San Diego State punctuating a second straight undefeated run through the Mountain West Conference competition, the BYU football team collectively is wondering "who's next?"
As in who the 19th-ranked and two-time league champion Cougars (10-2) will face in their bowl game, likely a third consecutive trip to the Las Vegas Bowl against a middle-of-the-Pac-10 opponent.
Most recent projections listed a 6-6 UCLA team, who the Cougars played three months ago and will host next fall in Provo. Other possibilities include last year's Vegas opponent Oregon (8-4), Oregon State (8-4), 2005 Vegas Bowl winner Cal (6-6) or maybe non-Pac-10 invitees Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State or Ball State.
The darkhorse Las Vegas Bowl candidate and fan favorite would be ranked Boise State, but that would take some finagling from conference, bowl and ESPN officials.
"I'd like to play the very best team possible, one that will be competitive in nature, as we will be," said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
While the San Diego State offense strived to be BYU's equal in matching the Cougars' scoring, the same can't be said for the Aztec defense, which allowed 538 yards total offense over 78 plays for nearly a seven-yards-a-play average, mirroring the per-carry averages of BYU backs Harvey Unga and Fui Vakapuna.
Unga rushed 23 times for 161 yards and three touchdowns, and Vakapuna in his best outing of the season added 97 yards and a TD on 14 carries.
Max Hall complemented the Cougar ground game with 19-of-26 passing for 227 yards and three aerial scores.
SDSU quarterback Kevin O'Connell tried to play catch-up with the Cougars himself, rushing for a team-best 61 yards and two scores and completing 33 of 55 passes for 288 yards and another TD.
After beating 4-8 San Diego State, BYU's focus was mostly on a bowl opponent.
"I would like to play someone in a similar-ranked position as us don't care who, don't care where," said linebacker Bryan Kehl, adding. "For me, to play a fourth- or a fifth-place team, that's not fair to our conference and to the college football fan in general. It should be a competitive match-up, so whoever's in charge of that should see to it."
Saturday night, BYU saw to it that it never trailed.
The Cougars scored touchdowns on their two first-quarter possessions, sandwiched around O'Connell's first rushing score. The first pass-and-run-blended drive ended with an eight-yard TD toss over the middle from Hall to Unga, and the second aided by an SDSU interference call and Hall threading an 18-yard pass to Matt Allen culminated with Unga's first rushing TD, from one yard out.
Mitch Payne missed the second point-after kick for a 13-7 score.
In the second quarter, both teams traded punts and interceptions, Kayle Buchanan's pick followed by a Hall pass off the hands of Joe Semanoff getting snagged by SDSU's Corey Boudreaux at the Cougar 24.
On the Aztecs' ensuing possession, a fumble recovery by linebacker Shawn Doman was erased when receiver Steve Schmidt was ruled down before fumbling. SDSU followed with Garrett Palmer's first of two 41-yard field goals.
Just before half, the Cougars went up 20-13, with a steady diet of Vakapuna and Unga carries complemented by a Hall scramble to the SDSU 25. After a holding call, Hall found Allen for 16 yards and then tossed a 17-yarder that Austin Collie one-handed in stride crossing the goal line.
In the final 1:04 before intermission, O'Connell led the Aztecs to set up Palmer's second FG and a 20-13 score.
The Cougars started the second half with a 54-yard scoring drive, all yardage coming on Vakapuna and Unga rushes, the latter going in from seven yards out for a 27-13 lead.
The Aztecs countered with another O'Connell-engineered drive four third-down pass conversions, the last a three-yard TD toss to RB Lynell Hamilton to pull SDSU within 27-20.
BYU responded with another run-heavy drive, needing an 18-yard Hall-to-Allen pass to whittle away a first-and-24 after back-to-back penalties. Unga punctuated the possession with a three-yard TD blast and a 34-20 margin, solidified when the Cougar defense forced the Aztecs to go three-and-out on the third quarter's final possession.
The fourth quarter was much like the first two Cougar TDs with an O'Connell rushing score coming in between. On the first scoring possession, Hall had four completions to set up Unga's third rushing TD, another 1-yarder.The second drive featured a fourth-and-two play at the Aztec 13 with less than five minutes to play, with Hall throwing to Dennis Pitta on the right flat and the tight end running down the sideline and diving over the goal line. Payne's sixth PAT concluded the scoring.
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