Colorado State, BYU looking to avoid second conference loss

Updated: October 8, 2003, 8:27 PM ET

PROVO, Utah -- Brigham Young and Colorado State could be playing one of the most important games of the season, and it's only early October.

Whoever loses Thursday night's game when the Rams visit the Cougars will have two conference losses and a long way to fight back to contending for the Mountain West Conference title.

"I don't think either one of us wants to get behind by two losses in the conference," BYU fullback Naufahu Tahi said. "I think that every game we play from now on has got to be a win. I think we're capable of doing that."

Both the Cougars (3-3, 2-1 MWC) and Rams (3-3, 0-1) ended two-game losing streaks last weekend. BYU's offense finally broke out in a 44-36 win at San Diego State, while Colorado State ended its non-conference schedule with a 34-10 win over Fresno State.

While both wins are welcome, the .500 starts midway through the season are disappointing to two teams that have won the last two MWC titles.

"It kind of stinks that we waited this late to be the team we wanted to be," said Dexter Wynn, who had an interception, sack and gained 110 return yards for the Rams last week. "This game is a little more emphasized now since we had a slow start."

Air Force (2-0) and Utah (1-0) are the only MWC teams without a league loss. Most coaches have said the conference champion probably won't make it through the league without a loss.

But two losses, especially this early, would be tough to overcome. BYU coach Gary Crowton is trying not to dwell on that.

"I don't want to say this is a make it or break it," Crowton said. "If I put extra pressure on them and it makes them a little too tight and we don't play well, that's not a good thing."

After opening the 2001 season 12-0, the Cougars have stumbled badly. BYU lost its last two games that season and went 5-7 last fall. This year's 2-3 start was discouraging as the Cougars approached full-time league play, then it turned around quickly at San Diego.

John Beck, making his third start as Matt Berry continued to recover from a broken hand, completed 17 of 26 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Beck also ran for a score as the Cougars gained 418 yards of offense.

BYU also got 144 rushing yards on 19 carries from Reynaldo Brathwaite.

"We've known all along that the offense could do it," BYU linebacker K.C. Bills said. "We've played against them and we know their potential. It's good to see them come together and score the points that we knew they could."

Colorado State hasn't won at BYU since 1994. Two years ago, the Rams were beaten 56-34 in Provo. The Rams finished with 598 yards off offense, but that was still nearly 100 yards short of BYU's total of 694.

"I know the last time we went down there we could not slow the chain guy down. He couldn't move fast enough," Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick said. "I don't think they punted in the whole ball game."

The Rams lost consecutive home games to Miami of Ohio and Utah before ending the skid last week by beating Fresno State. Bradlee Van Pelt passed for 197 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a season-high 154 yards on 13 carries in the win.

"It opened up the entire ball game," Lubick said of Van Pelt's running. "When we played people like that you don't know whether to rush him or not rush him."

With the Thursday night game, neither team has had much time to savor last week's win or recover from it. Lubick isn't concerned about the short turnaround.

"I don't anticipate or think of it as being a problem," Lubbick said. "The way I look at it, we've got to play the game. So whoever you're playing you go play the darned thing."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index