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BYU Cougars Offer UCLA A Full-Grown Test At The Rose Bowl

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The Cougars always have a physically mature team, and this year they bring a 2-0 squad that seems to have been born under a lucky star

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Brigham Young's Cougars, scions of the hearty legions who tamed an arid, high-mountain desert because they believed, all the way, in the truth of their destiny, remain a bunch of rugged, rough hombres.

The men on their football team, and generally they are fully-grown men as opposed to large boys, are led to battle by a dude called Bronco, who coaches his vessels to hit opponents as late as legally possible, laying down the holy lumber until the final echoes of a whistle have died away.

"When I've seen BYU play at its best, the teams I've watched in the past, they're physically dominant, they are very tough. They are on the edge of playing within the rules because they are so aggressive," the coach explained last year when his team's sportsmanship came under scrutiny after a pattern of unsavory play began to emerge.

Most recently in the cheap shot department, the Cougars have favored haymakers from the blindside during post-game brawls; attacking from behind the knees of unsuspecting receivers who didn't catch the ball; and devastating uppercuts to a man's John Henry when the ball—no pun—didn't bounce their way.

The Cougars are going to suit up a bunch of big guys approaching their middle-20s who are somehow underclassmen, and they're going to play mean in the hope of intimidating the younger team, that much you can count on.

A perfect example of this is BYU's kissed-by-the-gods true-freshman quarterback, 22-year-old Tanner Mangum, whose age under normal circumstances is that of a senior, if not a red-shirt senior, in many college programs. Mangum, who UCLA coach Jim Mora called a "grown man," has brought to fruition two Hail Mary victories in as many weeks to lift the Cougars to a surprising 2-0 start.

UCLA's true-freshman quarterback is 18-year-old Josh Rosen, the Chosen One, who at this time last year was a high school senior. The age gap between true freshmen starting quarterbacks on these teams is an astonishing four years.

An anonymous Division I coach expounded on the significance of Brigham Young's advantage in physical maturity to one of Sport's Illustrated's FanSided pages in an article titled: "Men Amongst Boys."

Their 25-year-old left tackle, who is a grown man in his physical prime, should be able to handle my teenager that lines up at defensive end. That's just the laws of nature. In the fourth quarter, who is better suited to deal with adversity? The guy in his mid-twenties who's married and has a child, or the teenager lined up across from him? Those are men playing at BYU. We know it, and we make sure our players know what they are up against when we play them.

But none of this constitutes a usable excuse for the Bruins, and UCLA ought to beat these Brigham Young men decisively, so long as the game is kept a battle of talent and not something decided by mistakes, missed opportunities or luck.

The Bruins were so overpowering last week in Las Vegas that it got boring and seemed slow, leading some of the partisans to conclude the lads weren't performing well enough. It is true the offense could have been sharper, and more exacting, but the fact is a true freshman quarterback made his first road start and things came slower than the opener in front of a friendly arena.

The Chosen One showed God's favor in his debut, but remember God claimed to love Job too before driving him into a wilderness of pain. That's not to say Rosen is prepped to get Job'd, but the inclination to overreact after the first road trip of the season should be smothered and muted. Rosen finished the night 22-42, having been generally off target with what definitely is an accurate arm, and throwing for 223 yards with one touchdown offset by one interception.

"I told you to temper expectations," coach Mora told the Orange County Register after his team man-handled the Rebs not far from the famous Las Vegas Strip. "I'm just like everyone else, probably. You get jaded by that first game. Then you expect it to look like that every week and it's not going to."

The stable of running backs paced the Bruins in a dominant 37-3 victory, rushing for 273 yards and two touchdowns. On what many regarded as a slow offensive night, UCLA outgunned UNLV 526 yards to 237, and picked up 30 first downs to the Runnin' Rebs 11. It was, on an off night, a shellacking of the first order.

The unit needs to be tightened up, but it's a situation where steady progress is the week-to-week prescription, not one where soul searching and rebuilding are dark clouds looming ominous over the campaign.

Coach Mora told the Scout cameras what he saw and what he wants improved.

Offensively, I'd like to see us finish in the end zone rather than kicking field goals. Our red zone scoring efficiency has been good, our red zone touchdown efficiency needs to improve.

The Bruins defense has started slowly again with quarterback sacks. Deon Hollins has the teams only takedown through two games, but while sack numbers aren't up, the pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been consistent and the team has tallied 10 tackles for loss. Against UNLV, they allowed just 56 yards by air, and 181 by ground, including 41-yard and 30-yard big-chunk runs, which were surprise explosions from a team that generally had its heavy movers and quick strike weaponry grounded early.

Again, coach Mora gave Scout the simple synopsis.

Defensively, our pressure on the quarterback has been good but I'd like to see us finish with sacks. Our run defense has been very good although we've given up some explosive plays I'd like to eliminate.

The No. 19 Cougars will be the 10th ranked Bruins best test to date. They will try to move the ball through the air to their big wide receivers, and likely won't look much to the running game. UCLA's defense, which is allowing 9.5 points per game, will be called on to stop that, and the best way will be to prove they can attack the quarterback. Barring that, the Bruins defensive backfield has to orchestrate its positioning and technique with precision. Watching them attempt to solidify themselves as a tight, synchronized unit will be fun.

Playing in Los Angeles will be a huge advantage, though not the decisive one; that falls to UCLA's supremacy both in talent and coaching. But the season is long and memories are short, so this Saturday is little more than anopportunity to make fans happy, or as happy as fans can be, for another week.