Mendenhall, Blankenship see similarities in BHAFB participants

By Brian Hilderbrand for

On paper, the matchup between the University of Tulsa and BYU in Friday’s ninth annual Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl promises to be a high-scoring, offensive shootout. The last time these two teams met, in 2007, they combined for 102 points as Tulsa outgunned the Cougars 55-47.

Both teams feature very balanced and potentially explosive offenses. Defensively, BYU (9-3) is ranked 16th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense, allowing 316.83 yards per game, and has allowed an average of 20.3 points per game. Tulsa (8-4) has been a little more generous on defense, allowing 420.67 yards and 27.6 points per game but all four of the Golden Hurricane’s losses were to teams ranked in the Top 10 at the time.

Both programs are among the top 21 in victories in the FBS over the past five years; BYU has compiled an impressive 48-16 record during that span while the Golden Hurricane has posted a 44-21 mark.

The similarities between the two teams are not lost on Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship and BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who met the media Thursday morning in advance of Friday’s game at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on the SMU campus in Dallas.

“Our programs mirror each other in a lot of ways,” Blankenship noted. “I feel like we've both been a part of consistent winning teams over the last five or six years that are in the top 15 or 20 in the country in terms of wins. That's something that we're excited about. We're specifically very pleased to be playing BYU. We think this is an opportunity for us to match up against a team with national notoriety, a team that's been a consistent winner. We expect a hard-fought, disciplined and physical football game.”

Mendenhall agreed.

“I'm really intrigued and excited about playing Tulsa,” he said. “Both teams, I think, play solid defense (and) I think both teams will be hungry and motivated. As most of the bowl games I've seen this year seem to be good matchups and came down to the end, I wouldn't be surprised if that happens in our game. I'm not usually successful in predicting what type of game it will be – high-scoring, low-scoring, in between – but I think it will be a competitive game with two hungry teams.

“We certainly have had our hands full in preparing for Tulsa on both sides of the ball. Whoever wins the game I think it will be a significant victory against a good team and a good way to finish the year.”

Both coaches agreed that one of the keys to the game will come down to taking care of the ball and minimizing turnovers. Mendenhall suggested the Cougars will have to try to contain Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne if they are to be successful.

“I think a lot of their quarterback,” Mendenhall said of Kinne. “Hopefully, being able to maybe limit, if possible, the success that he can have (but) really no one has been able to do that. He has the capability of winning the football game – I'm not going to say on his own – but certainly he can lead and do a lot of things that very few players can do.”

Blankenship said it will be incumbent on Tulsa to be able to run the ball and limit BYU’s big plays for Golden Hurricane to prevail.

“If we can just make them snap the ball, it gives us a chance to stay in the game,” Blankenship said. “You don't want to give up plays over the top (and) big runs. If we limit the explosives, take care of the football and establish some running in this game, I think we'll have a good chance to win.”

Brian Hilderbrand is covering the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl for for the third consecutive year. Hilderbrand is a media consultant and freelance writer in Las Vegas after spending more than 30 years as a sports writer covering high school, collegiate and professional sports in Southern California and Nevada.