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Will Armed Forces Bowl feature another BYU-Tulsa shootout?

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 27 2011 12:26 a.m. MST

DALLAS — BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall remembers it as "one of the greatest learning lessons of my life."

It was the Cougars' 55-47 loss at Tulsa in 2007, a night when ghosts of the wacky WAC showed up at Chapman Stadium in Tulsa. The defenses didn't have a clue and the offenses scored almost at will.

The two teams combined for 102 points and 1,027 passing yards in a contest that lasted nearly four hours.

Will there be another wild shootout when the Cougars and Golden Hurricane collide Friday (10 a.m., MT, ESPN) in the Armed Forces Bowl?

In '07, BYU quarterback Max Hall, then a sophomore, completed 34-of-57 passes for 537 yards and four touchdowns. Cougar wide receiver Austin Collie caught four passes for 121 yards and rolled up 237 yards in kickoff returns.

Meanwhile, Tulsa QB Paul Smith completed 21-of-35 passes for 454 yards and five touchdowns. Smith had passes go for 75, 51, 43 and 37 yards.

For Mendenhall, that loss has stayed with him all these years.

"It was really helpful for us to then start to get a feel for what that offense was and do some research on it," Mendenhall said this week. "The rest of the year, everyone struggled with it. It was helpful that we saw it that early, just a tough lesson ... The respect that Tulsa earned from us on that day — we know we're playing against a very good opponent and a very powerful opponent in terms of prolific scoring. I had no idea how to stop Tulsa. Not only did I not know in the first quarter, I certainly didn't know in the fourth quarter. Tulsa had a really nice offensive scheme and some very good players. From that moment on, the respect that I've gained for their program has kind of catapulted from there. I remember a lot of points. I don't remember the final score, but I remember talking to the team afterwards in the locker room saying, 'That was my fault.' I still don't know what they did to us, but they scored a lot of points."

It was similar to what had happened when these two teams tangled as WAC members in the 1990s. In 1995, 1996 and 1997, when both schools were part of the WAC, BYU won by scores of 45-35, 55-30 and 49-39.

It's also worth noting that Tulsa has won four of its last five bowl games — including three in a row, with wins over Bowling Green, Ball State and Hawaii. The average score of those three victories is 57-15.

Bill Blankenship, who is in his first year as Tulsa's head coach, was in his first season as the Golden Hurricane wide receivers coach in 2007. Tulsa's offensive coordinator was Gus Malzahn, who later went on to help guide Auburn to the national championship as the Tigers' offensive coordinator last season.

"I was a new assistant coach on Todd Graham's staff. It was our first season," Blankenship recalled. "It was our first home game of the year and we had a great crowd. The environment was exciting. Then it was just an offensive shootout, back-and-forth."

That loss gave the Cougars a 1-2 record, but they rebounded to win 10 consecutive games and captured the Mountain West Conference championship, finishing 11-2.

"BYU was a very good football team that year," Blankenship said. "In fact, as the season wore on, that win meant more because we watched them run the table and actually have a great year. It was one of those games where the team that had the ball last was probably going to be able to win. Fortunately for us, we had the ball last. It was an exciting game, very physical."

This year's version of Tulsa's offense is led by senior quarterback G.J. Kinne. The Golden Hurricane averages 454 yards per game (No. 23 in the nation) and averages 34 points per game (also No. 23 in the nation).

Meanwhile, BYU is averaging 41 points per game in its last six contests.

Through the changes on the coaching staff, Tulsa has maintained many of the elements that allowed the Golden Hurricane to score points in bunches in 2007.

"We've seen elements of that, then there are some other things that are a little bit different," Mendenhall said. "Their quarterback is a very good player."

"We've tried to live up to that kind of offensive firepower," Blankenship said. "We've tried to model a lot of what BYU does defensively. They play great defense. There's a lot of similarities between the two teams. We're both fairly balanced offensively."

"I love their quarterback and the way he plays the game," Mendenhall said. "They're coached very well and they're a very good football team."

Email: jeff@email.com

COUGARS ON THE AIR

Armed Forces Bowl

Tulsa (8-4)

vs. BYU (9-3)

Friday, 10 a.m. MT

Ford Stadium, Dallas

TV: ESPN Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

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