BYU, like the U of yore, is not your mama’s football team

By By Brian Shaw, , By Brian Shaw, and

By Brian Shaw

Go back to a simple time, a moment in which U running back/bulldozer Chris Fuamatu-Ma’Afala rumbled through Cougar Stadium mud to paydirt and to victory in a ripped jersey.

Formerly white in color, the jersey remnant flailed in three pieces in the autumn breeze like used washrags in your mama’s sink.

There was no name displayed on the back of this famously borrowed and tattered No. 19 jersey.

The Utes were not your mama’s football team.

And nobody picked the Utes to do anything in 1996, even in the wacky Western Athletic Conference and especially against BYU. But they did, to the surprise of prognosticators. Following the Provo stunner, ESPN’s play-by-play crew even tried to give big Ma’Afala a catchy nickname before the Copper Bowl that January versus Ron “The Locomotive” Dayne and Wisconsin, but it didn’t stick, and the Utes lost badly.

The Utes had more than 20 junior college players on both sides of the ball during nearly every year in the ’90s. They came from JCs like Grossmont and Ricks, to name a few. And they still do.

But the JCs aren’t as necessary at the U as they once were, in part to a bigger budget and a broader recruiting area. Oh, have the tables turned, as Utah is garnering the national acclaim that BYU once enjoyed. Back in the ol’ ’90s, Coach Mac liked ’em rough and tumble, and the philosophy always worked in the same manner.

The 1999 Utes had Golden Whetman, a Ricks transfer kicker blasting a beautiful 51-yarder in the unforgiving Paloose to beat PAC 10 Washington State one week-and missing consecutive extra point attempts in friendly Rice-Eccles the next.

Utah defied conventional wisdom back then-and I’m afraid that what goes around comes around.

BYU is in a similar situation now. This change in philosophy is likely the brainchild of coaches like Cougar defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall, a mentor to NFL All-Pro Brian Urlacher-coincidentally during those 1990s-as a former New Mexico defensive coordinator.

He now has BYU playing “Brian Ball,” smash mouth ball akin to Urlacher. He was Mr. Everything for the perennial loser Lobos in the ’90s before he dated Paris Hilton and put NFL opponents in the hospital.

And the Cougars, for the first time in over a decade, do not have names on the backs of their jerseys, la the U of yore.

Wearing number 38, BYU kicker/Ricks transfer Todd Payne looked like Big Bad Brian with multiple hits on Chris Carr, Boise State’s return man Friday, Sept. 23. The hits not only imprinted Carr like the late Rick James “UNITY” ring did on Charlie Murphy’s forehead, but also served as a warning to future Cougar opponents, including the U: Slap!

Later in the game, Payne’s kick to defeat No.21 Boise State went left, a fate more like Whetman’s than Urlacher’s-and so went the Cougars’ upset of the nationally ranked Broncos on ESPN. Double slap!

Having suffered back-to-back losing seasons, a first for the football dynasty, the Cougars signed Grossmont J.C. transfer/receiver Todd Watkins this year. He has grabbed his Penn State-esque No. 1 jersey as a matter of fact – and has taken it to a new level. Nine catches for 218 yards against Boise is not exactly chopped liver. And neither was his monster performance versus defending national champion USC a week earlier. And like Ma’Afala, it may have appeared to be too little, too late. Or was it?

The Cougars are not your mama’s team.

And-as the Utes could surely attest in the early ’90s under Ronnie Mac-opening up the playbook to the pigskin gods can produce miracles. And sometimes they can’t.

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