College Football

Old friends, colleagues to meet in Poinsettia Bowl

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This story was researched, compiled, written and edited by fall 2012 University of Connecticut sports writing students, Emily Croll and Justin Siekierski, with information from Brigham Young University and San Diego State sports information, ESPN, Deseretenews.com, Sports Illustrated and Onlyagame.wbur.org.

San Diego State (9-3, 7-1 MWC) looks to unleash their prominent rushing attack against a familiar foe in Brigham Young University (7-5), which will rely on their outstanding scoring defense in the San Diego County Credit Union, Poinsettia Bowl at 8 p.m. ET Dec. 20 (ESPN) at Qualcomm Stadium.

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San Diego’s Head Coach Rocky Long told Aztec Athletics, “We were really happy that we qualified for a bowl game about four weeks ago.” Long said, especially that it’s a home game. At first, he said, the location of the game wasn’t important.

“But then as people started talking about the possibilities of where you might go, we wanted to stay home and play in front of and give our fans a chance to see us in a bowl game,” said Long. “San Diego is a wonderful place, why would you want to go any place else?” he said at the time the invitation was extended.

San Diego defeated Navy in the 2010 edition of the bowl.

This will be San Diego’s 7th bowl (2-5) appearance since 1947 and BYU’s 30th bowl appearance since 1974. Overall they are 12-17-1 in Bowl games but have won three straight since losing the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl to Arizona.

The Cougars will be making their eighth consecutive bowl game appearance; they have a 5-2  bowl record under Mendenhall.

More importantly, it’s the 35th game between the teams with BYU leading the all-time series, 27-7-1.  The teams met for 13 consecutive seasons in league play until BYU left the conference to become independent in 2011.

BYU will need the front seven of their defense to play aggressively against SDSU if the Cougars wish to earn their 13th bowl game championship in school history.

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SDSU will need the leadership of the senior class to keep the team focused for the upcoming game.

SDSU will leave the Mountain West Conference next year to become one of the new members of the Big East.

The 2012 football season has been tough for BYU because of an inconsistency on offense from the quarterback position, which led to three different starters and a quarterback controversy.

In their last game against New Mexico State University on Nov. 24, starting senior quarterback Riley Nelson was sidelined with a back injury and was replaced by other senior quarterback, James Lark, making his first career start.

Lark threw for 384 yards and six touchdowns, five of which were scored by junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman, who set a school record in the Cougars  50-14 win.

Lark set four different individual game highs for BYU quarterbacks this season including, pass completions (34), yards passing (384), TD passes (6), and long pass completion (64).

Despite the win, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall told Deseret News the 2012 season was “one of the most challenging years I’ve had as a head coach.”

The season has been riddled with quarterback controversy but Mendenhall refused to commit when asked who will start in the Poinsettia Bowl, saying he will make a decision after he has evaluated the players.

The Cougars have had to rely on their stellar defense this season which ranks no. 3 overall among FBS teams, with their rush defense ranking no. 2 in the FBS. allowing only 84 yards per game, their 12th ranked passing defense which allows only 182 yards per game, along with a scoring defense which ranks fifth in the FBS allowing 14.1 points per game.

On Dec. 3, BYU junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy received All-American honors after leading the Cougars in tackles for loss (18.5), forced fumbles (5), and sacks (11.5)- three of which coming against NMSU, an individual game high this season for BYU.

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Noy’s sack total ranks 10th nationally among FBS players while his tackles for loss and forced fumbles totals rank 11th and tied for fourth respectively.

Noy will have to come up huge for the Cougars if they expect to slow down SDSU’s impressive running attack that ranks 16th in the nation averaging 229.2 yards per game.

Noy will be up against it trying to stop SDSU’s sophomore running back Adam Muema, who has rushed for 1,355 yards this year and scored 16 touchdowns.

This season SDSU has scored 35.1 points per game and 407.8 offensive yards per game, 229 of rushing, which ranked 16th best in the nation.

The upcoming game will not only renew the rivalry between the two schools but will also pit two old friends against one another.

Mendenhall served as defensive coordinator for two years under Long when they were both at New Mexico State.

In the Nov. 26 Deseret News, Mendenhall was quoted as saying, “We are looking forward to facing San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl. I have a lot of respect for Rocky; he is a mentor and good friend.”

“San Diego State is a very good team that won a share of the Mountain West title this season,” said Mendenhall. “Our team is anxious for the opportunity to continue to improve playing against a quality opponent.”

Senior defensive back Leon McFadden told Aztec Athletics he expected SDSU come back after losing to BYU two years ago in the Poinsettia bowl.  “All season we talked about us seniors leading from the front and holding everybody accountable to their job,” he said.

“Also, we started building this foundation when we went to the Poinsettia Bowl two years ago.  We’ve had the same mindset for the past couple years, and it all worked out after the hard work,” said McFadden.

McFadden has three interceptions this season, two of which lead to scores.

For the BYU defense, along with Noy, senior linebacker/ defensive lineman Ezekiel Ansah will have to continue wreaking havoc in opponent’s backfield if the Cougars are to slow down the Aztec’s rushing game.

Ansah grew up in Ghana dreaming of playing basketball in the United States. This desire led him to the campus of BYU where he ran track and tried out for the basketball team but to no avail.

“It took two years for people to tell me to try out for football,” said Ansah in a recent Sports Illustrated article. “That was because I was focused on playing basketball the whole time I was out here.”

With no previous football experience, Ansah walked onto the team in 2010 and his physical strength, speed, and athleticism quickly translated from the hardwood to the grid iron.

Over the last nine games of the season, the 6’ 6” more than 250- pound lineman has led the team in tackles for loss (13), is second in sacks (4.5), and third in tackles (48).

This has caught the attention of many NFL scouts who are intrigued by Ansah’s physical abilities and potential upside. He has been described by one NFL scout as a “Jason-Pierre Paul type player,” referring to the New York Giants outstanding defensive end.

Ansah is projected to be anywhere from a late first round pick to an early to mid-second round pick in this year’s NFL draft.