Bowl Game Preview: Las Vegas Bowl
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Quarterback John Beck and Brigham Young should have enough motivation to overcome the malaise that accompanies nearly a one-month layoff between their regular-season finale and bowl appearance.
The 19th-ranked Cougars look to channel that emotion when they play in the Las Vegas Bowl for a second straight season to face Oregon on Dec. 21 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
After leading a last-second victory that enabled BYU (10-2) to end the regular season with a nine-game win streak and its first Mountain West title since 2001, Beck returns to the site where last season ended with a loss on a costly interception.
As the Cougars seek to end a four-game bowl losing streak and record their first postseason victory in 10 years, Beck will oppose the person who brought he and coach Bronco Mendenhall to BYU. Oregon offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, who coached BYU from 2001-04 before he was forced out, recruited and coached Beck and hired Mendenhall as his defensive coordinator in 2003.
``I have the deepest respect for coach Crowton,'' Mendenhall said. ``He is a dear friend and I am grateful for the opportunities he has provided me throughout my coaching career.''
Beck's development is reflected in his comeback attempts in this bowl game last year, as well as his most recent performance.
The 25-year-old senior completed a 75-yard drive in a 1:01 span with an 11-yard scoring pass to tight end Jonny Harline as time expired to give BYU a 33-31 win at Utah on Nov. 25.
Despite setting Las Vegas Bowl records for completions (35), attempts (53) and passing yards (353) last year, Beck could not lead the Cougars all the way back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter as they lost 35-28 to California. BYU had a chance to tie the game with the ball near midfield, but Beck's arm was hit as he attempted a pass and the ball was intercepted with 1:25 to play.
The Mountain West offensive player of the year has reduced his interceptions from 13 to six this season. Beck completed more than 70 percent of his passes while finishing among the country's top 10 in passing yardage (3,510) and touchdown passes (30).
``He's a great quarterback and will be measured with the greats here,'' BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Beck, who threw for at least 247 yards in each of his 12 starts.
He will oppose a Ducks defense that allowed an average of 34 points and nearly 350 total yards during a three-game losing streak to close the regular season. However, Oregon did finish with the best pass defense in the Pac-10, allowing 156.7 yards per game.
The Ducks (7-5) are looking to avoid a fourth straight loss overall and in bowl games. They haven't won one since beating Colorado 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl five years ago. Their only appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl - in its 15th year of existence - was a 41-13 rout of Air Force in 1997.
Eliminating turnovers could be a key for Oregon, which tied for the ninth-most giveaways in Division I-A with 30. Eighteen of those turnovers came in the team's five losses.
``We talk about possession of the football as more than nine-tenths of the law,'' Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. ``In this case, it's the whole deal.''
While both teams have high-scoring offenses - BYU is ranked sixth in Division I-A with a 36.7 scoring average and Oregon is 17th at 31.3 - the Ducks' quarterback situation is unsettled.
After Dennis Dixon struggled with six total interceptions and no more than 130 yards in his last three games, Brady Leaf made his first start in the regular-season finale at Oregon State.
Leaf completed 25 of 42 passes for 274 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but the Ducks allowed a go-ahead field goal with 1:12 left and their 44-yard attempt 40 seconds later was blocked as they lost 30-28. Dixon did not play.
Both quarterbacks played in Oregon's 17-14 defeat to Oklahoma in last year's Holiday Bowl when Leaf, the brother of former San Diego Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf, threw an interception at the 10-yard line with 33 seconds left.
``We've just got to make sure we cut down on our turnovers,'' Oregon center Enoka Lucas said, ``make sure we keep the ball in our hands.''
Running back Jonathan Stewart has provided some stability for the Ducks offense. The sophomore had a career-high three touchdowns against Oregon State, giving him 10 for the season, and finished with 960 yards rushing.
``They run the ball extremely well, they pass the ball,'' BYU linebacker Cameron Jensen said. ``So we know we're going to have to be sound in our run and pass defense.''
The Ducks lead the all-time series 3-2 and won the last meeting, 32-16 in 1990.
by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us
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