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BYU Football: Taking a look back at the 1996 Cougars (Part II)

In a three part series, we will revisit one of the greatest seasons in BYU football history.

Storied LaVell Edwards Stadium
Storied LaVell Edwards Stadium
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

In the second installment of revisiting 1996, we look at the middle of the schedule for the Cougars.  After playing 4 of the first 5 games at home, the Cougars schedule flipped and forced them to play 3 of the next 5 on the road.  The road games in the middle of the schedule didn't have near the consequences as the previous road game since the Cougars outscored the home team on average of 48-23, and finished 3-0.  The Cougars weren't any nicer at home as they averaged 52 points to the opponents 23 in the two home wins.  Weeks 6-10 were the most productive weeks with the Cougars facing lesser opponents, but the games provided entertainment to the fans and confidence for the players.

Week 6: BYU at Utah State

After coming off a strong performance against SMU, and moving up to #21 in the Coaches Poll, the Cougars travelled to Logan to take on in-state rival Utah State.  The first quarter started out slow as the teams could only put up three points between them, on an Ethan Pochman 24-yard field goal.  In the second quarter, the Cougars decided to take the reins and connected on a 44-yard field goal before Shay Muirbrook took an Aggie fumble 45 yards for the Cougars first defensive touchdown of the year.  Trailing 13-0 the Aggies fought back as Matt Sauk tossed a 6-yard touchdown to Guillermo Chaves to cut the lead to six.  BYU would then pull out all the stops and on a trick play the Cougars would score on a 3-yard pass from K.O. Kealaluhi to Brian McKenzie and later added a 47-yard Pochman field goal to take a 24-7 halftime lead.

The third quarter was similar to the first, but the lone score was dynamic as James Dye took a punt and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown for the only points of the quarter.  With a 31-7 lead headed to the fourth, the Cougars went on cruise control.  They gave up a Micah Knorr field goal before adding an 18-yard Ronney Jenkins touchdown rush, and a Ben Cahoon 5-yard touchdown from Kevin Feterik to finish their scoring at 45.  Utah State would add a late touchdown from Patrick Mullins to Shawn Turner from 26 yards out before the game ended with a 45-17 beating of the Aggies.  Even with three turnovers and over a 100 yards in penalties, the Cougars rolled their way to victory.

Week 7: BYU vs UNLV

The Cougars moved up to #19 before their homecoming game against the Rebels and appeared to outmatch UNLV in all aspects of the game.  The Cougars managed to limit their turnovers to a single interception and put points on the board at will.  UNLV started the scoring in the first quarter with a 23-yard touchdown run by Jon Denton before the Cougars answered with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Steve Sarkisian to Aaron Cupp.  Tied at seven after one would be the jumping off point for the Cougars as the second quarter lead to 28 points between the teams.  BYU would take their first lead with a pass from Sarkisian to Kealaluhi from 14 yards out, followed up by 21- and 33-yard touchdown passes from Sarkisian to Jenkins.  UNLV would put seven more points on the board before halftime when Denton tossed a 17-yard touchdown to Len Ware, putting the halftime score at 28-14 for BYU.

BYU continued to control the ball and the game in the third quarter as Brian McKenzie scored on a 3-yard rush followed by an 18-yard touchdown scramble by Sarkisian.  UNLV would score once in the third quarter as Denton found Carlos Baker for a 7-yard touchdown.  With a 42-21 lead going into the fourth, the Cougars continued to beat up on the Rebels as McKenzie scored again on a 14-yard rush, Paul Shoemaker tossed an 18-yard touchdown to John Moala, and Chris Stevens scored on a run from 2-yards out.  With the backups playing well, the Cougars allowed one more touchdown as Denton again found Ware on a 27-yard touchdown.  With almost 600 yards of offense, the Cougars walked away with a 63-28 win.

Week 8: BYU at Tulsa

Blowing out UNLV didn't impress the voters much as the Cougars could only move up to 18th in the polls before their trip to Oklahoma to take on Tulsa.  The Cougars continued to provide exciting offense, but had to fight their own mistakes as they turned the ball over twice and gave up 127 yards in penalties.  The defense struggled throughout the game as they allowed Tulsa to put points on the board, making the game much closer than it should have been.

I had told the team at halftime that we needed to take that first drive down and score...(After Dye's return) Somebody walked by me and asked me if that was quick enough -LaVell Edwards after BYU beat UTEP as told to Bob Mims of the Associated Press (Washington Post, November 2, 1996 (Washington Post Online)

BYU started off the scoring with a long 51-yard field goal from Pochman and followed it up with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Sarkisian to Itula Mili.  With a 10-0 lead the Cougars defense held Tulsa to a James Anderson 22-yard field goal before Pochman answered with a 25-yard one of his own and a Jenkins 1-yard touchdown run, giving the Cougars a 20-3 lead after one.  Tulsa looked to be on the verge of being blown out when Sarkisian connected with Kealaluhi for a 31-yard touchdown to put BYU up 27-3, but they went on a run of their own.  Anderson started the string of 17 straight points with a 41-yard field goal before Reggie Williams scored on an 8-yard rush and then Terrance Joseph returned an interception 48 yards to pull Tulsa within seven at the half.

BYU increased its lead in the third quarter to 14 with a Mark Atuaia 9-yard touchdown catch from Sarkisian, but Tulsa answered with a 12-yard pass to Damon Savage and another Anderson field goal.  The pressure was starting to build for the Cougars as a 17-point lead had dwindled to four until a 38-yard touchdown pass to James Dye and a 1-yard touchdown rush for Jenkins broke the game back open.  Chad Lewis would complete the Cougar scoring as he caught a 6-yard pass in the fourth quarter to give the Cougars the 55-30 win.  The Cougars ended up with over 250 yards rushing and 329 yards passing in the effort and looked to be all but unstoppable.

Week 9: BYU at TCU

BYU moved up three spots after beating Tulsa and sat at #15 when they visited Fort Worth to take on TCU.  Even with four turnovers the Cougars really never let the Horned Frogs into the game and took an early lead that was never relinquished.  Dustin Johnson started off the scoring with a 7-yard touchdown run before Pochman added a 34-yard field goal to take a 10-0 lead into the second quarter, where the Cougars did the most damage.   Passes from Sarkisian to Cahoon and Kealaluhi resulted in touchdowns, giving the Cougars a 24-point advantage before Jeff Dover found Jason Tucker for a 35-yard touchdown for the first TCU points of the game.  Atuaia would add a 42-yard touchdown rush before the half and the Cougars led 31-7 going into the third quarter.

Playing precision ball led to another Dustin Johnson touchdown run, this time from 5 yards out, for the only score of the third quarter.  TCU would start the fourth quarter scoring with a 9-yard pass to Basil Mitchell, but the Cougars would answer on a Jenkins 6-yard rush.  TCU would add on one more touchdown on a Koi Woods rush, but the game would end with BYU in front 45-21.  The Cougars again had over 300 yards passing and just under 150 yards rushing as they continued to roll through the WAC.

Week 10: BYU vs UTEP

The Cougars came home after their win in Texas as the 13th ranked team in the country and looked to continue their push against the UTEP Miners.  BYU played one of its sloppiest games of the year against the Miners as they fumbled the ball five times, although only losing one of them.  The team played at a much slower rate during this game and averaged significantly less yards per play.

The Cougar defense boasted the first and only score of the first quarter as Chris Ellison intercepted a UTEP pass and returned it 65 yards for the touchdown.  With the missed extra point, the Cougars led 6-0 until McKenzie rushed for a 32-yard touchdown in the second quarter.  The Cougars tried for two this time and missed, keeping the score at 12-0.  UTEP would end up with a Jon Olsen field goal before halftime to go into the locker room down 12-3 at the half.

James Dye sparked the Cougars on the second half kickoff as he went 100 yards to start the second half and gave the Cougars a 19-3 lead.  UTEP would answer shortly when Cedric Johnson caught a 5-yard pass from Leonard Lilja and the same pair would add the two point conversion.  Only up by eight, the Cougars turned to McKenzie on a 2-yard run and Chad Lewis for a 1-yard reception to put two more touchdowns on the board, leading to a 33-11 lead after three.  Michael Hicks gave the Miners a sliver of hope when he returned a fourth quarter interception from Sarkisian  for 100 yards and a touchdown, but the Cougars answered as Kealaluhi added another touchdown to his resume, leading the Cougars to a 40-18 victory.  Even with sloppy play and adversity, the Cougars came out strong and with a solid victory as their win streak reached seven games.

Up Next:

In the final installment, we will look at weeks 11-15 which included Rice, Hawai'i, Utah, the WAC Championship game, and the Cotton Bowl.