When Mitch Donahue says that well, yes, he reckons BYU is a beatable football team, it isn't just a theory. Maybe the Cougars do lose almost never in the Western Athletic Conference. Maybe they have outscored their WAC opponents this year by something like 500 points. Maybe they are banned in Albuquerque. But they don't overly impress Donahue and the Cowboys he rode in with.
Coming into Saturday's BYU-Wyoming WAC-Championship-Deciding, ESPN-televised showdown here in Memorial Stadium, Donahue, Wyoming's 6-foot-3, 260-pound All-America candidate at defensive end, owns a personal 2-1 record against BYU.When he was a freshman in 1987 the Cowboys beat the Cougars 29-27. When he was a sophomore in 1988 the Cowboys won 24-14. Only last year, when Donahue was a junior, did BYU beat Wyoming, by a 36-20 score in Provo. At that, Donahue had his usual mayhem-esque game, getting a sack on Cougar quarterback Ty Detmer on the way to winning the WAC's Defensive Player of the Year award.
If you haven't heard of Mitch Donahue then you aren't a WAC quarterback. Donahue has been in more backfields the past four years than a lot of running backs. If it's a quarterback, his motto is to hit it. His 43 career sacks to date gives him nearly one per game for the entire four years he's been at Wyoming (the Cowboys have played 47 games in the Donahue Era, and they've won 35 of them, including a 26-4 record in the WAC). They don't keep a conference record for career sacks, but Donahue would own it unquestionably if they did.
The Donahue Era at Wyoming has also coincided perfectly with the Paul Roach Era. When Roach took over as Cowboy coach for the '87 season, Donahue strolled onto campus as an unheralded undersized recruit from Billings, Mont. Then they played the first game - at Air Force.
The Cowboys kicked off. Air Force's return man started upfield. Donahue hit him. Let the eras begin.
"Mitch has been a great leader," says Roach. "He's an egg-beater type guy, a guy who gives everything he has on every single snap."
He's had enough sacks that he's forgotten some of them, but not the one last season against San Diego State that ranks as his personal favorite. There was Aztec quarterback Dan McGwire, a-l-l a-l-o-n-e.
"I had a free shot at him and I just belted him," says Donahue. "It was really a nice sack. I hit him right where he had the ball. He fumbled it. I guess the memorable thing about it is that you just don't get that many straight shots."
Especially you don't get straight shots when teams double-, triple- and quadruple team you. Donahue has been playing tag-team football ever since he made all-WAC his sophomore year. Football for him hasn't been lonely.
"There was one game this season that they tried to play him straight up," says Wyoming sports information director Kevin McKinney. "It was at Washington State. He had four sacks and totally disrupted the game."
BYU has traditionally treated Donahue with more respect.
"They've played me tough, personally," says Donahue of the Cougars. "I remember last year I was double teamed a lot. There was the tackle and the tight end, and if that wasn't enough, the running back would come up and give me a shot too. BYU isn't easy."
Neither is it invincible. Donahue remembers well the last time BYU (and ESPN, for that matter) came to Wyoming. That was two years ago, in 1988, when Sean Covey was BYU's starting quarterback and his freshman backup, Ty Detmer, was yet to play a down.
In the first half, Wyoming defensive tackle David Edeen hit Covey hard enough to knock him out both literally and from the game. Detmer was hustled in in time to throw four interceptions. In all, there were nine sacks that game on BYU quarterbacks (four on Covey, five on Detmer), one concussion and one ruined debut. The Cowboys defensive line of Edeen, Pat Rabold, Craig Schlichting and Donahue made an impression, all right.
Edeen, Rabold and Schlichting have all since been drafted into the NFL, leaving Donahue with memories, momentum and new teammates like Thomas Williams, a sophomore this year who has 10 sacks to go along with Donahue's 16.
"BYU is a big game for us, as big as they come," says Donahue. "If we beat BYU we'll gain a lot more respect. For myself, I'd really like to win and go to the Holiday Bowl. It would be a perfect ending to a good career."
That's his opinion of course. Not the quarterbacks.