Dick Harmon: BYU and Tulsa both should have motivation

Published: Friday, Dec. 30 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall and Tulsa Coach Bill Blankenship

Richard K Dalton,

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DALLAS —

Who is more motivated in today's Armed Forces Bowl, BYU or Tulsa?

Motivation: The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

It tends to be a huge factor in these affairs. When somebody loses, like Alabama did to Utah in the 2008 Sugar Bowl, some discredited Utah, saying Alabama didn't want to be there. Loser talk.

You hear it over and over again, people saying a bowl loser didn't want to be there; they had sights on something higher; they lost a conference championship game or a playoff game; they lost to a key rival in November and never recovered; a coach just got fired and the team didn't really want to be there.

Well, I think Tulsa and BYU are taking today's game very serious.

For the Cougars, this is the end of the first year of independence. It started out they had to go undefeated or play in this bowl game — decided before the season began. With losses to key opponents (Texas, Utah, TCU) there's just enough on the bone today to have a good solid meal before the year ends and say it could have been better but ended well with desert.

For Tulsa, these guys had a seven-game win streak snapped by ranked Houston the last time they took the field. It cost them a Conference USA championship game appearance. It was a 48-16 loss and ended in an embarrassing manner with Houston finishing on a 28-0 run. Notching a victory over BYU would be sweet. The Cougars are listed as the No. 25 ranked team by Nationalchamps.net in its Annual Early Bird Preview for 2012.

Bronco Mendenhall needs this one. Riley Nelson's growing legend could use this one. Ten wins carries a ring to it, kind of jingle instead of a funeral requiem.

"I think both teams will be hungry and motivated as most of the bowl games I've seen this year seem to be good matchups and came down to the end," said Mendenhall. "I wouldn't be surprised if that happens in our game."

Neither Tulsa or BYU wants to leave the stadium like pallbearers who lost the casket.

"We were very, very disappointed coming off that (Houston) game for a couple of reasons," Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. "We had an opportunity that we didn't take advantage of. Houston's a very good football team, but nearly to a man, as we went through the film, we didn't play anywhere close to the level we had been playing the (previous) few weeks. I don't really have a good explanation for that, but we picked a bad time to not play at our best. We sure don't want to end the season that way."

Losing motivates.

BYU got a career game out of Nelson at Hawaii when he came off an injury. That also motivates.

BYU had setbacks to Texas, Utah and TCU, while Tulsa had its losses to No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 7 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Boise and Top-10 Houston. Those are motivation.

BYU outside linebacker coach Kelly Poppinga finds motivation today because he remembers the last time BYU played Tulsa in 2007. It was a shootout and the Cougars lost. Poppinga was on the field playing defense in a defenseless game.

"I remember in the first quarter, they all of a sudden started playing an entirely different offense, nothing we'd seen on film at all. It caught us by surprise and we never recovered the entire game," said Poppinga.

That's motivation.

Mendenhall admitted to reporters earlier this week he personally had no idea what to do in that game to stop Tulsa.

That's motivation today — to be more prepared if Tulsa runs off script. He does expect trick and gadget plays.

Mendenhall is also closing in on more bowl success than legendary LaVell Edwards in a shorter time. His four bowl victories is three shy of Edwards' record seven bowl wins.

If BYU wins today, it will be the first time ever the Cougars have won three bowl games in a row.

Yeah, there's motivation in Dallas today.

Email: dharmon@desnews.com

Twitter: harmonwrites

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