PROVO While BYU was squeaking out a 28-27 victory at Washington last Saturday to keep its Bowl Championship Series hopes alive, UCLA took a break, having experienced its share of drama earlier in the week.
Both the Cougars (2-0) and the Bruins (1-0) tumbled in The Associated Press poll released Sunday. BYU dropped three spots to No. 18 while UCLA, which vaulted to the No. 23 spot last week, fell out of the top 25, to No. 26. The Bruins had the weekend off after vanquishing then-nationally ranked Tennessee, 27-24, in overtime, at the Rose Bowl on Labor Day. They upset the Volunteers when Tennessee kicker Daniel Lincoln missed a field goal in OT.
UCLA visits BYU Saturday at 1:30 p.m., and it will mark the third time the two teams have played in 370 days. The way things are going, this is becoming a rivalry. Last September, UCLA defeated the Cou-
gars at the Rose Bowl, 27-17. BYU exacted a measure of revenge in the Las Vegas Bowl in December, 17-16, when it blocked a Bruin field goal as time expired.
Saturday at Husky Stadium, the Cougars won again in similar fashion, and by one point, when defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen blocked the Huskies' 35-yard extra point attempt with two seconds remaining. BYU has now won four of its last five games against Pac-10 teams, with the only loss, of course, coming at the hands of the Bruins.
"We've got to prepare like crazy. UCLA's a team that we've beaten before and should beat again," said BYU quarterback Max Hall, who completed 30 of 41 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns against the Huskies. "It's going to be another dogfight. We've got to keep doing what we're doing, focusing on our stuff and battling like crazy. Hopefully we'll have a good week next week, too."
While UCLA and BYU are becoming very familiar with each other, the Bruins have added some new but familiar faces since the last time the two teams played. Former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel was hired to take over his alma mater's program in late December. The last time he coached in Provo, it was his debut as Washington's coach back in 1999 (BYU won, 35-28). Neuheisel's offensive coordinator is former BYU offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who filled that position for the Cougars from 1982-1999.
UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft is a transfer from Mt. San Antonio College via San Diego State. Craft started for the Aztecs in a 47-17 loss at BYU in 2006. He took the controls of the Bruin offense after injuries to Ben Olson (broken foot), who redshirted at BYU in 2002, and Pat Cowan (knee).
In his UCLA debut against Tennessee, Craft threw four first-half interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, though, Craft directed a pair of touchdown drives. He completed 18 of 25 passes for 193 yards in the second half.
Then there's defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who was the Bruins' interim head coach for the Las Vegas Bowl after the firing of Karl Dorrell. Walker served as a BYU assistant coach for one season, in 1995. And Kai Forbath, who had his potential game-winning field goal blocked by the Cougars in Las Vegas, drilled a 42-yarder in overtime against Tennessee that turned out to be the game-winner.
Plenty of story lines.
"Craft played against us a few years ago (for San Diego State) and I was impressed," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "Obviously, coach Chow on offense is an excellent coach. We already know about coach Walker on defense. He's an excellent coach. They have a new head coach as well. They have a bye week in preparation for us. But we have them in LaVell Edwards Stadium. I'm sure our team will be anxious to play."
"Anytime we play at home, we feel like we have a huge advantage," said linebacker David Nixon. "We expect our crowd to be rocking like it was (Saturday at Husky Stadium). It's going to be a big sellout game with both of us in the top 25. There will be a lot of hype. But it's just another football game. We hope to come out with a victory."
The Cougars snapped a streak of nine straight non-conference road losses with the win over Washington. But Mendenhall does not see it as breakthrough victory. "Was this a huge step for us? No," he said. "Was it the next step? Yes."
Said Jorgensen of facing the Bruins: "It's going to be fun.We've got to get focused on UCLA. They're a good team. We watched them play last week. They have a great defense. Craft showed some really good things in the second half. We're going to have to play a team that has some momentum. We're going to have to get after them."