If you can't join 'em, beat 'em.
Twenty years ago, Arizona State left BYU and the WAC in the dust for the Pac-10, and though Cougar football thrived for a time as a bully in the ASU-less WAC, of late BYU has been on the outside looking in. Not until this summer did school officials get the bright idea to pull out of the WAC, while a coveted invitation to the greener pastures of the Pac-10 may never materialize.But none of that mattered Saturday night, when for the second straight season the unheralded Cougars managed to defeat a ranked ASU team. But this was no 13-10 squeaker like last year. This was no fluke. On a balmy night in Cougar Stadium before a crowd of 65,096, BYU pounded the No. 14 Sun Devils into submission, 26-6, and officially quashed ASU's dreams of a national championship. It was BYU that looked and played more like a Pac-10 squad.
"It was a great one for us, no question about it," said BYU coach LaVell Edwards. "I knew we were going to play well tonight because we had such a great practice. It was one of the best weeks we've had in a long time around here. I didn't know tonight's game would go quite like it did, but we are very pleased."
Thanks to the swift legs of Ronney Jenkins, the accurate toe of Owen Pochman and a stingy defense, the Cougars simply dominated the Sun Devils from start to finish.
As fate would have it, ASU was one of the schools that tried to lure Jenkins away from BYU in 1997 when the speedy sophomore was placed on a one-year probation by the university for Honor Code violations. Of course, Jenkins spurned ASU's overtures. And after struggling with cramps in limited action last week in Alabama, Jenkins finally broke loose for a career-best 171 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries against the Sun Devils.
Pochman, who converted the game-winning field goal last year in Tempe, made good on four field goals Saturday from 33, 41, 33 and 38 yards. Then there was the Cougar 'D,' who bedeviled the Devils by forcing the heretofore potent ASU offense into three turnovers and 308 total yards. The Cougars bottled up running back, all-purpose star and Heisman Trophy candidate J.R. Redmond, holding him to a meager 28 yards rushing on 16 carries.
Prior to the game, you could have written a book detailing why the Y. supposedly didn't have a chance against the Sun Devils. It seemed neither history nor reality was on BYU's side. The Cougars don't play well at night, they don't play well in home openers (having lost three of their last four), and they generally don't play well against ASU (the Sun Devils had won four of the last five meetings).
But the Cougars defied all the odds. They exorcized some demons along the way, and their 1998 fortunes look a whole lot rosier than they did last week after a 38-31 loss at Alabama.
As for ASU, the prognosis is not good. In two weeks, the Sun Devils have gone from national championship contenders to a team searching for answers. Last week, ASU lost to BYU's upcoming opponent, Washington, damaging its quest for a Pac-10 crown and berth in the national title game, the Fiesta Bowl, held in Tempe, Ariz., on ASU's home turf.
Now, the Devils will be battling to salvage their season.
BYU's offense made a statement from the outset as quarterback Kevin Feterik hit tight end Tevita Ofahengaue on a 24-yard strike. Three plays later, fullback Kalani Sitake was on the receiving end of a 25-yard pass play, which led to a 34-yard field goal by Pochman.
Meanwhile, the physical Cougar defense didn't allow a first down to ASU until late in the first quarter. BYU scored its first touchdown when receiver Ben Horton caught a pass tipped by cornerback J'Juan Cherry along the sideline and then zigged, zagged and zipped 74 yards to make the score 10-0 with about 12 minutes left in the second quarter.
The Sun Devils managed to move the ball in that period, but two productive drives resulted in missed field goals by kicker Mike Gauthier. On the other side, Pochman drilled both of his attempts to give the Cougars a 16-0 edge at halftime. His third field goal came with two seconds left after defensive lineman Daren Yancey recovered a Redmond fumble at the ASU 20. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against ASU put the ball at the Sun Devil 10, and the Cougars eventually settled for three points.
BYU didn't let up in the second half, either. On their third drive of the third quarter, the Cougars marched 74 yards for another score, with Jenkins accounting for all but four of those yards on the ground. Jenkins knifed in from two yards out to cap the drive and lift BYU to a 23-0 advantage.
Even when ASU did something right, it seemed to backfire. A 46-yard catch by receiver Kenny Mitchell was fumbled and picked up by safety Tyler Nelson, who returned the ball to the BYU 46 yard line. The Cougars later cashed in as Pochman booted yet another field goal and BYU was up 26-0.
The Sun Devils finally got on the board with 10:44 remaining in the game as Lenzie Jackson hauled in a TD pass from quarterback Ryan Kealy. Keeping to the evening's theme, Gouthier had his extra point attempt blocked by Byron Frisch.
Feterik completed only 6 of 20 passes for 166 yards against ASU, but he is now 2-0 as a starter against the Sun Devils.
BYU will call on the Pac-10 again Saturday afternoon as the Cougars travel to Seattle to face No. 10 Washington, which had a bye this week.