LAS VEGAS Dennis Pitta has learned a few tricks of the trade since the last time BYU played UCLA.
Dealing with a quality tight end is something BYU hopes UCLA will have to do come Saturday in the Pioneer Vision Las Vegas Bowl as the Cougar offense plans to ride a balanced attack.
Pitta's even learned a lot more about how defenses plan to play him since the Utah game. Where the Utes put a hand on him during his routes and got physical, he expects other teams will do the same and more. "I've just got to be more physical in return," said Pitta.
"I've taken what I've learned, and I'm going to try and adjust my own game to counter what people do," said Pitta.
Pitta and buddies Vic So'oto and Andrew George plan to be a big part of Saturday's attack against the Bruins. Pitta was named first team all-MWC and it wasn't even close. As a sophomore, Pitta caught 54 catches for 775 yards and 5 touchdowns this past season.
"He's a good one," said UCLA interim coach DeWayne Walker. "So are their receivers and so are their running backs. Robert Anae, the offensive coordinator, does a good job of getting the most out of his personnel. We saw another good tight end at USC (Fred Davis 55 catches, 794 yards and 7 touchdowns)."
In the first UCLA-BYU game, Pitta caught 5 passes for 66 yards about his season average.
Saturday marks Pitta's first experience in a bowl game, and he said he is looking forward to the experience. "It's also a challenge for us to come out and correct some of the mistakes we made in the first game."
Bronco Mendenhall said tight ends who can make plays do challenge defensive coordinators. "It's a pretty simple formula, just as it was with Jonny Harline," said the coach.
There is a size disadvantage for a defense to go against Pitta, who is 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds. Mendenhall said, "If you use a corner or a safety, there is a height and weight disadvantage. On breaks, with the nudges that go on, Pitta can create separation. If you cover him with a linebacker, then speed may be a disadvantage. It then becomes a situation where you might scheme for him and use two people in some kind of coverage but that then leaves somebody else open. The best defense might be to try and disguise what you do."
Utah, for instance, played a matchup man coverage. The Utes would wait until BYU lined up in a formation, then decide whom would take whom, "a specific player on a specific player."
Mendenhall said Utah handled what it did well, specifically getting hands up and forcing passes to the outside. "Over time, I thought we handled it well, although they did a good job limiting our blue zone opportunities."
UCLA will do much of the same, according to Mendenhall.
"They'll pressure our quarterback, try and get us out of our rhythm and play our receivers man on man most of the time."
In three months, Pitta said he has a better understanding of what it takes to play tight end. He has more confidence. "I have learned more of the technical aspects of playing tight end and have done a better job at reading defenses and finding a way to help the team."
Pitta says BYU has seen opponents change things up when he comes into the game. "I saw it against Utah. I take that as a compliment. If teams have to scheme for me, obviously, I must be doing something good."
Pitta said the Utah game proved frustrating to him because he hadn't seen that kind of coverage this season. "It was a bit of a change. When things are presented to you, you make mistakes and learn from them. I would have liked to have more precision in my route running, and I'd like to have been more physical. Those are things I'll work on in the off-season and next year."
If defenders are going to send a linebacker at him or a safety or both and if they put their hands on him, he's going to be more aggressive. "You have to meet their physicality. You can't be a finesse player when they try to outmuscle you. You have to get down and dirty with them. Obviously, I'll have to work on that the next time we play (Utah)."
And if the Bruins get physical, he'll counter, come Saturday.Said Pitta, "You have to anticipate some of that with UCLA. In that regard, the Utah game was good for me, to learn that. We're going to come out and be physical against them."
BYU on the air
BYU (10-2) vs. UCLA (6-6)
Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
Saturday, 6 p.m. (MST)TV: ESPN Radio: 102.7 FM, 1160 AMP