BYU Football: What’s at stake for the # 13 Cougars in the Independence Bowl?

Spend just a few minutes talking to BYU soccer players and coaches over the past few days and what motivates the No.13 Cougars to play well against UAB in the 2021 Independence Bowl is becoming evident.

The 10-2 Cougars aim to become the first BYU team to post consecutive 11-game winning seasons since the 2006 and 2007 teams both went 11-2 under coach Bronco Mendenhall.

Simple as that, wide receiver Gunner Romney, defensive end Uriah Leiataua and offensive lineman Clark Barrington said on Monday that the Cougars were training in Provo for the last time this season.

The Cougars will fly to Shreveport, Louisiana on Tuesday and continue their preparations to face the 8-4 Blazers on Saturday in a game that will be televised nationally by ABC.

“To get 11 wins is huge,” said Romney, a fourth-year player from Chandler, Ariz. “It was one of the toughest shows BYU has ever played. We played and won against the most Power Five teams in BYU history. Cementing our legacy would be awesome, and getting 11 wins would be an amazing thing. … It would be unheard of. I think it would be really cool to hang out with a bang.

The Cougars are touchdown favorites, but to one man they say they have a lot of respect for UAB, who finished second in the U.S. Conference West Division standings ahead of the winner of the UAB Championship game. the UTSA conference.

“I don’t think we despise UAB. I want to make sure everyone knows that our team is focusing on who our opponent is, ”said Leiataua. “That’s pretty much how we feel about it.”

It will certainly be Leiataua’s last game as a Cougar. Meanwhile, Barrington, who was named All-American last week by a few different outlets, has said he is returning for at least a year.

Romney said he was “leaning a little in a way right now,” but was sticking to his goal of waiting until the end of the season to decide for sure. He hasn’t said which way he’s leaning.

He said Saturday’s game, which starts at 1:30 p.m. MST, still means a lot to the Cougars, even though they were all hoping for a New Years bowl game after knocking out USC 35-31 on the 27th. November. in Los Angeles to go 5-0 against the Pac-12 and 6-1 against opponents of Power Five.

“Everyone on this team feels a little bit offended by the bowl selection committee and so I think, really, that’s the # 1 motivator is to go out and, you know, to finish. strong and to show the teams that we deserve to be up there, and to maybe help future BYU teams and show people that we shouldn’t be asleep, ”Romney said.

Romney, who was only able to play nine games because of knee strain and missed the USC game, said all Cougars were initially “frustrated” by the perceived snub, but coach Kalani Sitake quickly pulled the team out of the doldrums.

“It’s hard to work all season with that as one of your goals, then to get a bit closer and be a bit short, it’s frustrating for sure,” he said. declared. “But I think everyone did a great job of turning that frustration into motivation. These last weeks of practice have been really intense, really amplified. There were fights because it was so competitive.

Romney said coaches got first-team offense against first-team defense, a rarity for most college teams once preseason training camp is over.

“It gets really competitive (in practice),” Romney said. “People are ready to go out and play another game against someone else. So I think people kind of channeled that frustration into motivation. “

To get 11 wins in 2006, the Cougars had to beat the Oregon 38-8 at the Las Vegas Bowl; to get 11 wins in 2007, they had to beat UCLA 17-16, also at Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas.

They won 11 or more games in three consecutive years from 1983 to 1985, going 11-1 in 1983, 13-0 in 1984 (and were crowned national champions by the Associated Press) and 11-3 in 1985, even losing 10-7 to Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl that year.

“Being great and picking up (an 11th win) is what drives us all,” Barrington said. “We want to be great, and that will prove to everyone that we’re great, if we can get this 11-game winning season. This is our goal and we will strive to achieve it.

There’s no doubt the Blazers will be motivated, the BYU players said, because they know what it felt like when they weren’t ranked and faced a ranked team with a greater national profile than they did. them.

“You know they’re going to be thrilled,” defensive end Tyler Batty said.

Barrington said: “Our goal in training has been as we have been in every other game. It was perhaps a little disappointment at the beginning, but we understand that if we do not show up, we will be beaten. So we have to train and play hard and do everything we’ve been doing all year the same. “

Barrington said training was just as passionate, physical and intense as it was last year before BYU beat UCF 49-23 for 11 wins. There were also questions about BYU’s motivation in 2020, as the Cougars were close to a NY6 offer before losing to Coastal Carolina in their only setback of the season of pandemic exhaustion.

“I think they have been the same,” he said of the practices, all held indoors due to the winter weather in Provo and also because when the grass of the outdoor training ground is wet, it becomes even more slippery. “Every game, whether it’s a bowl game or the first game of the season, we do the same things. “

Leiataua was a member of the 2017 BYU team which went 4-9 and became the first Cougars team to miss a bowl game since 2004, Gary Crowton’s last year.

“Kalani has done a great job of raising everyone’s morale and making sure we are all thankful for playing in a boules game,” Leiataua said of the initial disappointment. “So the fact that we’re even playing in a bowling alley is a blessing in itself.

“It’s one more opportunity to play, and we did our best and did all we could,” he continued. “I’m proud of our boys and what we’ve been able to accomplish. “

Leiataua said this year’s squad are also proud to have played well enough to help Sitake secure a new contract that will keep the popular coach at Provo until the 2027 season.

“We have the opportunity to leave a legacy,” he said. “Since I’ve been here I’ve always heard about (Mendenhall’s dominant teams). … Come to think of it, we can be that team. We can be the 2020 and 2021 team they are talking about going forward. So I think that’s what we’re playing for.

Because 11 is much better than 10, whatever bowl game it is offered in.

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