BYU-Tulsa Preview

Brigham Young has won eight of its last nine games and scored at
least 40 points in three straight contests.

That likely isn’t nearly enough to impress Tulsa.

Balanced teams with similar philosophies will be on display in
the Armed Forces Bowl on Friday in Dallas.

Since losing two of its first three games, BYU (9-3) has been
among the best teams in the nation. The Cougars followed their
disappointing start with five straight wins before losing to TCU,
but ended the regular season with three victories by an average of
30.3 points.

Tulsa (8-4), meanwhile, suffered all four of its losses to teams
ranked in the top 10 at the time. The Golden Hurricane had a
seven-game win streak snapped with a 48-16 loss to then-No. 8
Houston in their regular-season finale Nov. 25.

With junior quarterback Riley Nelson making his first start
since suffering lung and rib injuries against Idaho on Nov. 12, BYU
closed its regular season Dec. 3 with a 41-20 win at Hawaii. Nelson
completed 25 of 37 passes for a career-high 363 yards and three
touchdowns.

“This team feels like it can compete with anybody right now,”
Nelson said.

The Cougars boast a capable offense that ranks 42nd in the FBS
with 30.6 points per game and 41st with an average of 410.8 total
yards.

Both of those totals, however, are bettered by Tulsa, which is
24th in the nation in scoring (34.1) and 23rd in total offense
(454.4).

Before losing to Houston, Tulsa had scored a combined 116 points
in wins over Marshall and Texas-El Paso and reached the 35-point
mark six times during its seven-game streak.

That formidable offense is led by fifth-year senior quarterback
G.J. Kinne, who rushed for more than 400 yards, threw for 25
touchdowns and passed for 300 or more yards five times this season.
Kinne gets plenty of help from running backs Ja’Terian Douglas and
Trey Watts, who each ran for more than 800 yards, with Douglas
leading the FBS with 8.2 yards per carry.

While BYU’s running game can’t boast quite the same production
as Tulsa’s, the Cougars’ top rushers – JJ Di Luigi and Michael
Alisa – combined to break the 1,000-yard mark.

Slowing down BYU’s passing attack will pose the biggest
challenge for the Golden Hurricane, who will want to keep a close
eye on BYU sophomore wideout Cody Hoffman, who has 821 receiving
yards and seven touchdowns. Ross Apo added 453 yards and nine
scores.

“The fact that BYU and Tulsa used to be in the same conference,
the Western Athletic Conference, we certainly are no strangers to
BYU and vice versa,” Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. “I think
BYU is certainly an opponent that people will get excited about
with what can happen on the field between these two teams.”

While Tulsa has the statistical edge on offense, that is offset
by BYU’s stingy defense which ranks 23rd nationally in points per
game allowed (20.3). The Golden Hurricane yield an average of 27.6
points.

The Armed Forces Bowl has historically produced some top
offensive showcases since its 2003 inception. While last season’s
matchup only produced 30 total points, the three previous games all
surpassed 60.

Because both of these teams possess high-powered offenses, fans
could be in for another entertaining affair similar to the last
meeting between these schools Sept. 15, 2007, when Tulsa outscored
BYU 55-47.

That was the first victory for the Golden Hurricane in seven
all-time meetings with the Cougars.

“I certainly remember the game. We had no idea what we were
defending quite frankly,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “That
was one of the most explosive offensive schemes we’d ever
seen.”

This will be the seventh consecutive bowl appearance for BYU
under Mendenhall. The Cougars have won four of those six games,
including a 52-24 victory over UTEP in last year’s New Mexico Bowl.
A win in this bowl would give the program its fifth season of 10 or
more wins in Mendenhall’s seven-year tenure.

“If you look statistically at BYU, what they’ve accomplished
this year, absolutely great defense, high ranking across the board,
defense, pass defense, total defense,” Blankenship said. “Very
balanced offense, not unlike ourselves. They don’t have a lot of
statistical standouts which tells me they’re very much devoted to
the team concept.”

Tulsa has won three straight bowl games, averaging 56.6 points
in wins over Bowling Green, Ball State and Hawaii. Kinne passed for
343 yards and three TDs in a 62-35 win over Hawaii in the 2010
Hawaii Bowl.