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WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE : Coaches Find Defense Issue a Bit Offensive

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eight of the nine Western Athletic Conference teams--all but San Diego State--opened their 1991 seasons last weekend, which means it is time to ask the annual question:

Are they going to play defense in the WAC this year?

Most likely, the answer will remain the same:

Har-har!! Ho-ho!! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

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When it comes to defense, the conference’s initials stand for “Without A Clue.”

Points allowed last week: Brigham Young, 44; Wyoming, 32; New Mexico, 35; Colorado State, 24; Air Force, 31.

BYU, which played No. 1 Florida State, is excused. Air Force, which played Weber State, isn’t.

“We learned we’ve got to do a little better job defensively,” Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry said. “Of course, we played, I think, a fine offensive team in Weber State.”

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Weber State?

One thing about a lack of defense--it opens the door for quite a few surprises. BYU Coach LaVell Edwards, pointing to Hawaii’s 32-17 victory Saturday at Wyoming, thinks this shapes up to be one of the WAC’s most balanced seasons.

“I think Hawaii’s win at Wyoming is very significant for them,” Edwards said. “There are five or six teams in the league with a legitimate chance to win it, I think.

“Since the WAC started, there have never been this many teams with a legitimate chance to win it.”

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Since the WAC started in 1962 and Edwards arrived at BYU in 1972, that may be a slight exaggeration. Still, Edwards and several others think BYU, Colorado State, Hawaii, SDSU, Wyoming and Air Force all have chances to win this year’s automatic Holiday Bowl berth.

Texas El Paso, New Mexico and Utah, take a seat right over there.

Aside from defense, or lack thereof, here are four WAC themes to watch:

Traveling by Land

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Hawaii sophomore quarterback Michael Carter rushed for 224 yards Saturday against Wyoming. Hawaii’s ground total was 422.

UTEP ran for 349 Saturday in a 35-19 victory over New Mexico. Colorado State rushed for 262 and Utah for 188.

Air Force, behind its traditional wishbone attack, collected 504 yards rushing Saturday.

“In the early going, it looks like some people are running the ball real well,” Edwards said. “Utah ran well, Hawaii ran very well against Wyoming and I understand UTEP ran quite effectively against New Mexico.

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“Almost every one of those is a spread kind of offense. I suspect that people might be going more and more to the run.”

Brian Copeland, the WAC’s leading rusher last year with 896 yards, is back for his senior season at Colorado State.

Traveling by Air

Air Force, a team one would expect to travel through the air, hasn’t. But the Falcons will do so a little more this year.

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Word from the Academy was that the team actually spent part of the spring and fall improving its passing game. Releases from the media communications department have boasted as much.

And, Air Force quarterback Rob Perez even completed a 60-yard touchdown pass Saturday, the Falcons’ first since November, 1989. The Falcons were the only Division I-A team without a touchdown pass in 1990. Saturday, Perez completed four of 10 passes for 106 yards.

“And our percentage should have been higher than that,” DeBerry said.

He said Perez should have actually completed six passes.

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They’re used to completing that many on one drive at most other WAC schools. The leader of the pack, BYU Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, is healthy again after suffering two separated shoulders in last year’s Holiday Bowl.

“He had a good fall camp,” Edwards said. “He’s strong and he’s throwing the ball well.

“I’ve always thought the worst job in sports was being an NFL quarterback. Now, it’s becoming like that in college. Winning the Heisman and the way last year ended (BYU was outscored by Hawaii and Texas A&M;, 114-42), people are laying for (Detmer). If he doesn’t throw for 400 or 500 yards, he can’t win.”

Traveling to the Hospital

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Wyoming’s Joe Tiller is the only new coach in the WAC. Either he is one unlucky pardner or he runs the toughest training camp in the league.

The Cowboys lost two players for the season before the Hawaii game, linebacker Jarod Thiele (knee) and wide receiver Tim Mara (concussion), and seven more players were ruled out for last week’s opener against Hawaii.

Traveling with Suitcases

Hawaii plays five games on the mainland this season for the first time in its 83-year football history. Three of those are WAC games--at Wyoming, Colorado State and BYU.

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How Hawaii handles this will show whether it has a legitimate chance to win the conference. And it may also settle whether the WAC teams it plays on the road have a real chance. Wyoming already is one game behind, thanks to its loss to Hawaii.

BYU’s schedule isn’t kind, either. The Cougars, who lost to Florida State last Thursday in the Disneyland Kickoff Classic in Anaheim, are at UCLA Saturday and then travel to Penn State Sept. 21.

The season-opening three-game stretch against Florida State, UCLA and Penn State should either make or break the Cougars. They could get banged up early or, should they survive, be more solid by Nov. 16, when they play SDSU.

WAC Standings

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Team Last Season 1991 Conf All All Brigham Young 7-1 10-3 0-1 Colorado State 6-1 9-4 1-0 San Diego State 5-2 6-5 0-0 Wyoming 5-3 9-4 0-1 Hawaii 4-4 7-5 1-0 Air Force 3-4 7-5 1-0 Utah 2-6 4-7 1-0 New Mexico 1-6 2-10 0-1 Texas El Paso 1-7 3-8 1-0


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