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BYU football: Cougar bowl retrospective

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19 2012 8:30 a.m. MST

SAN DIEGO — It's a little like back to the future for the BYU football program this week.

There was a time when San Diego was a second home for the Cougars, who played in 11 Holiday Bowls from 1978-93. It's where BYU beat Southern Methodist, 46-45, in what's now known as the "Miracle Bowl," as the Cougars came back from a 45-25 deficit over the final four minutes. It's where BYU defeated Michigan to cap its only perfect season and claim the 1984 national championship.

After a 19-year hiatus, BYU returns to San Diego for a postseason game — this time, the Poinsettia Bowl — Thursday when the Cougars face San Diego State.

The Poinsettia Bowl is the 15th different bowl game BYU has played in since its first one, the Fiesta Bowl, in 1974.

The Cougars boast a colorful bowl history, featuring a bevy of memorable victories and forgettable losses. BYU owns a lackluster 12-17-1 record in bowl games, but it has won three in a row, and five out of the last six.

Here's an in-depth look at the Cougars' bowl past.

ON 'RED ALERT' IN DALLAS (2011)

With many observers expecting a high-scoring affair in the 2011 Armed Forces Bowl on a sun-drenched day in Dallas, BYU and Tulsa staged a defensive struggle.

Quarterback Riley Nelson struggled for most of the game before helping lead the Cougars on a 12-play, 48-yard drive in the closing four minutes that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cody Hoffman on an audibled trick play with 11 seconds remaining, as the Cougars rallied to a 24-21 victory over the Golden Hurricane.

Nelson stood at the line of scrimmage on second-and-2 at the Tulsa 2-yard line. BYU's coaches had called a spike play to stop the clock. Instead, Nelson decided to call an audible and execute a "Red Alert," or a fake spike.

"There is a play that we have, Red Alert, that he called on his own, which is fake spike it, then throw a touchdown — or he better throw a touchdown, put it that way," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "He did that completely on his own. I do believe in the freedom of players, and I trust them to do what they think is right to help our team win."

Nelson's fake spike caught Tulsa's defense off guard, and he found Hoffman open in the end zone.

"I yelled to our outside guys the call and gave them the signal and we ran it," said Nelson. "Cody's stance was not a receiver's stance at all. He was standing there waiting for it to get hiked. When Cody took off, the first thing the corner did was spring back to not get beat on a fade. I had Cody's eyes. He stopped. I was able to put the ball back shoulder. Great play by him."

Hoffman earned Armed Forces Bowl Most Outstanding Player honors after catching eight passes for 122 yards and three touchdowns.

The other memorable play from the Armed Forces Bowl occurred just before halftime, when senior left tackle Matt Reynolds, Nelson and Hoffman teamed up for a crucial touchdown. It was BYU's first TD of the game.

On first down, as Nelson scrambled left toward the sideline, Reynolds lost his helmet as he tussled with a Golden Hurricane defender.

"I probably got a little too aggressive," Reynolds said. "I think I hit his knee with my helmet and my helmet popped off. When I stood back up, I saw them running for Riley. I just tried to stop them."

Stop them he did, by peeling back and delivering a crushing block near the sideline that allowed Nelson to keep the play alive.

Nelson completed a pass to Hoffman in the middle of the field, at about the 3-yard line. After catching the ball, Hoffman battled through a couple of Tulsa defenders, then stretched the ball over the goal line for the score.

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