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September 2, 2014

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Las Vegas Bowl:

Sloppy play costs BYU once again

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Leila Navidi

Austin Collie of BYU catches a pass while Devin Ross of Arizona defends during the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday.

Ten Years in the Making

In its first bowl-appearance in ten years, Arizona upended Las Vegas Bowl-regular BYU 31-21.

Las Vegas Bowl

Arizona celebrates a win over BYU during the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday. Arizona won the game 31-21. Launch slideshow »

Expanded coverage

Throughout BYU's 31-21 loss to Arizona in Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl, one thing became clear: Regardless of whether the Cougars cared about the game -- a subject of discussion in the media all week -- that talk was irrelevant. It was the same old problems the team had before that led to the Wildcats' win.

After starting the year on head coach Bronco Mendenhall's theme, "The Quest for Perfection", there was little doubt BYU was disappointed to find itself in Las Vegas for the fourth year in a row. Turning the ball over, struggling to give the quarterback time and finding itself climbing out of a hole made it hard for BYU to win its third consecutive bowl game.

"I was hoping to see cleaner play. The effort was there," Mendenhall said. "The emotional part of it was right. We had stretches where we played the kind of football I'd hoped we would, but we didn't play championship football."

Quarterback Max Hall was sacked twice, but the pocket passer was flushed outside more than the Cougars would have liked, despite the fact that Arizona was bringing pressure from only four defensive lineman. Hall finished 30-of-46 for 328 yards and one touchdown, but also threw an interception and lost two fumbles.

"I think Arizona's front four did a really nice job, much like TCU's front four did a nice job (in a 32-7 loss)," Mendenhall said. "When you get pressure on the quarterback with just four, things change. I thought Max was as patient back there as he could have been. His struggles are the most visible, but I think he reflected our entire team."

The Cougars gave up 13 turnovers in the three games they lost and just 10 in the 10 games they won. The only explanation anyone could come up with for the huge difference is that the Cougars had such high expectations -- they simply tried too hard when they found themselves trailing.

"We started getting in the mode where we thought we had to score on the first play of the drive," receiver Michael Reed said. "When we do that, we tend to get out of our game plan and rush things. Arizona's defense didn't stop our offense tonight. We stopped ourselves."

The night was filled with missed opportunities for the Cougars. Kicker Mitch Payne, an 83 percent field goal kicker in the regular season, missed attempts from 40 and 38 yards. Justin Sorensen, who takes longer attempts, missed from 53 yards out. The Cougars committed 10 penalties, including a series of them in the red zone in the second quarter when they had a chance to take the lead.

Defensively, the Cougars' secondary gave up a 71-yard play on Arizona's first drive that set the tempo in a big night for Wildcats quarterback Willie Tuitama. Tuitama and the spread offense lit up BYU for two touchdowns and 325 yards on 24-of-35 passing en route to MVP honors. He also ran the clinching touchdown in from 6 yards with 6:09 in the game.

"Any time you face a spread offense the reason they're doing it is to create mismatches and give athletes the chance to make plays in space," safety Kellen Fowler said. "Today they were able to do that and make big plays. It's not necessarily something you can't defend, you just need to buckle down and do it. Unfortunately, we didn't do enough tonight."

It was a fitting end to a disappointing season in which the Cougars won the easier games and lost the tougher ones. The two-time defending Mountain West Conference champs -- who hadn't even lost a game to a conference opponent those years -- fell short of their preseason expectations.

One consolation is that it may mean hungry Cougars next year.

"It's big-time motivation," leading receiver Austin Collie said. "We need to get in the weight room and find that edge. I think there's a point this team has reached where we need to take it to the next level. We didn't do what we thought we could this year. We have a lot of talented guys coming back and we'll have the potential to meet the goals we set for this year."

If Saturday night accomplished any short-term goal for the Cougars, it was hopefully to persuade the fans it was a lack of execution, and not desire, that left them short.

"I just hope that people look at the intensity and effort we played with," Fowler said. "That's not typical of a team that doesn't want to be here. I know for myself and all the guys I talked to, we look at bowl games as a privilege and not a right. Getting a final opportunity to play against a quality opponent is something we get up for. We just need to win more of them."

Will Collie, the all-time receptions leader in school history, stick around for another year? The junior tied an NCAA record Saturday night by posting his 11th consecutive 100-yard receiving game. Collie could go early if he jumped aboard the NFL ship, but he's not saying whether it's a possibility.

"That's not what I'm thinking about right now," Collie said Saturday. "I'm focusing on the loss and saying goodbye to the great seniors who played their last game."

There will be no such suspense for senior receiver Michael Reed, who has played his last game as a Cougar. Reed finished his career well, with nine catches for 117 yards against the Wildcats. With so many offensive weapons, Reed found himself a third read most of the year, but hopes that his passion for the game won't be forgotten in Provo.

"I just want to be remembered as a player who always gave it his all," Reed said. "It would have been easy for me to complain about not getting the ball as much as I thought I should have this year. I hope that people remember me as an unselfish player who did the little things out on the field."

It was a pass-happy bowl game. The two quarterbacks combined for 653 passing yards, the most in Las Vegas Bowl history. Tuitama's 24 completions were the most ever for a Pac-10 quarterback. Hall's 328 yards were fourth-most ever.

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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