PROVO Kelly Poppinga says BYU wants another shot at UCLA because the Cougars didn't do it right the first time a do-over is just fine by him.
In fact, since Steve Young led the Cougars over the Bruins nearly three decades ago, BYU has a lot of catching up to do against this Pac-10 team.
The 17th-ranked Cougars (10-2, 8-0) and Bruins (6-6, 5-4) play again Dec. 22 in the 16th Pioneer Vision Las Vegas Bowl in Sam Boyd Stadium.
"As a team we're excited to return to Las Vegas and play UCLA again. It's a chance to beat a team that defeated us early in the season when we had some young guys on offense, turned the ball over and didn't play the type of football we are now capable of," said the senior captain.
"We have a totally different team than the one that played them in September," said Poppinga.
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall told reporters on Monday he welcomes a rematch with the Bruins. Regardless of records or circumstances or any BCS controversy, Mendenhall said he sees the BYU-UCLA game as one more step to help his program make progress toward where it needs to be on the national scene.
"UCLA has proven very capable of beating us," said Mendenhall. "Our focus, as I've tried to explain all season long, is on us. Not where, not who and not why."
Mendenhall said it is his job to "make sure these young men have the best chance to reach all their goals," and the Las Vegas Bowl matchup with the Bruins is just another step along the way.
The Cougars certainly have much to prove after losing to the Bruins in Pasadena, then Tulsa on the road. BYU is 1-7 against UCLA, and the last time the two teams met in a bowl was 1986 in the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, when the Bruins thrashed the Cougars 31-10.
Mendenhall said his plan for the bowl is to keep his team playing consistent. "It's consistency that got us to win the conference the past two years and that will be what we try and concentrate in our bowl preparation in weeks to come."
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe agreed with Mendenhall's approach. "We aren't wearing smiley faces around here, but we are positive about what the direction the football program is going under Bronco, and we'll take the lead from him in his approach to playing UCLA. He's got it right."
Holmoe is more than familiar with the Bruins and what they are capable of, despite losing their lead in the Pac-10 the past few weeks.
"I know UCLA has had a difficult season with injuries, but having grown up a UCLA fan, I have great respect for their football program, coaches and players," said Holmoe, a former head coach at Cal. "I know they have great talent on their team and are capable of beating anyone anytime."
Poppinga said he expects BYU fans to show up en masse in Sam Boyd Stadium and provide the same home field advantage as a year ago when the Cougars beat Oregon 38-8.
"It's awesome to have that many of your fans in the stands. They did that for Oregon, and they did it for the UNLV game. I think 65 percent of the crowd in the stands were from BYU, and that makes a huge difference for our team, knowing you have that kind of support."
Holmoe said BYU has received 12,000 tickets from the bowl and UCLA has the same number to sell. "We will sell ours, and I can promise you we will sell any remaining tickets that the other team turns back."COUGAR NOTES: Holmoe said BYU has a contract to play UCLA in Provo on Sept. 6, 2008, but acknowledged that because Nevada canceled the Cougar opener even with a contract in hand, "anything can happen." He said he and UCLA's athletic director are communicating over next year's game. "Right now we're scheduled to play." ... Holmoe said the Las Vegas Bowl never had the Cougars off their radar and did not consider giving up its first choice to take the MWC champs for a trade with the Poinsettia Bowl for a matchup with 8-4 Navy. "They love BYU and what its done for their bowl the past two years." ... Poppinga told reporters he considered BYU capable of playing in the upper tier of the Pac-10 after wins over Arizona and Oregon the past two seasons and that theory would be forwarded with a win over the Bruins. ... Mendenhall said he realizes he can lose a member of his staff as coaching changes take place this month. "All I ask," he said, "is they tell me first."
E-mail: [email protected]