Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Flashback: A Double Dose of Las Vegas

The Brigham Young Cougars have become very familiar with Las Vegas since Bronco Mendenhall became head coach. In fact, BYU got a double dose of Vegas in 2005, 2007, and 2009 playing at UNLV during the season and in the Las Vegas Bowl at the end of the year. Back in 1992, BYU forced a double dose of Las Vegas on its opponents.

Going into the season 20 years ago, BYU knew it had a quality running back in Las Vegas prep product Jamal Willis. He had a stellar freshman season in 1991. During the off season, the Cougars picked up another Vegas native via Dixie College. Kalin Hall was the NJCAA player of the year in 1991.

In 1992, the 1-2 combo of Willis and Hall gave opposing defenses headaches all year long. It all started in game one at UTEP. Hall caught the Miners off guard. With short, choppy strides, Hall covered 114 yards on 15 carries. He also scored his first touchdown as a Cougar.

Despite seeing the damage done by Hall in El Paso, San Diego State couldn’t figure out a way to stop Hall. Early in the game, he ripped off a 67-yard run on his way to 143 yards on another 15 carries. His 9.53 average yards per carry and 67-yard scamper were both better than Aztec back Marshall Faulk. Willis chipped in 72 yards, which meant the Las Vegas duo combined for 215 yards in the game.

UCLA came to Provo next. To date, they did the best job “containing” Hall and Willis. The double dose of Las Vegas generated “only” 130 yards on 28 carries.

With the change up of playing on Friday night for conference weekend, Hall changed how he did his damage. The Utah State Aggies were burned when Hall caught a screen pass from quarterback Ryan Hancock, turned up field, and eluded Utah State defenders for 67 yards all the way to the end zone.

Midway through the year, during the Homecoming game, came the biggest Las Vegas double dose. Fresno State was shredded by both Hall and Willis. The duo carried the ball an amazing 50 times (Willis 30, Hall 20) and amassed an astounding 286 yards (Willis 129, Hall 157). They also reached the end zone three times.

After feasting on the Bulldogs, the Las Vegas duo laid low for a few weeks. When the Penn State Nittany Lions came to town on Halloween, these cougars pounced. Hall had his fourth 100 yard rushing day of the season and finished with 117 yards and a touchdown. Willis chipped in 72 yards, on nine less carries. The double dose of Vegas was too much for Penn State as they went home with their tails between their legs.

Going down the home stretch, it was Willis' turn to carry the load. He had the most productive three-game stretch for any BYU running back that season: 149 yards against New Mexico, 146 yards at Air Force, and 148 yards at Utah. He added six touchdowns during this stretch for good measure.

Hall and Willis were back in tag-team mode for the Aloha Bowl. On just 17 combined carries, they ate up 114 yards of Kansas real estate.

Not including the bowl game, Hall and Willis combined for 1,746 yards and 15 touchdowns. They were the most balanced, prolific, double-dose running attack ever fielded by BYU. On the season they combined for eight 100-yard rushing games (four each).

Twenty years ago, this Las Vegas pair had BYU opponents wishing what happened in Vegas really did stay in Vegas. 

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com

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