- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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PROVO, Utah -- Before the season started three weeks ago, it might have been hard to figure out which coach was a slicker used car salesman: BYU's Bronco Mendenhall or UCLA's Rick Neuheisel.
Mendenhall sold his players on the bold motto of "Quest for Perfection." Mendenhall believes the Cougars are good enough to finish 12-0 and play in a lucrative BCS bowl game at season's end. Mendenhall is so confident in his team's chances of beating everyone that the BYU players are wearing his slogan on T-shirts.
Neuheisel, a once-popular Bruins quarterback who returned to his alma mater with a blemished résumé after a gambling scandal at Washington, inherited a mess from former coach Karl Dorrell. The Bruins have seven freshmen on their two-deep roster -- on offense. Seven more rookies are listed on the two-deep depth chart for defense.
Still, Neuheisel went along with UCLA's marketing department when it bought a full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times. The ad was even more ambitious than BYU's dreams. The Bruins claimed "The Football Monopoly in Los Angeles is Officially Over," suggesting they're ready to make a run at crosstown rival USC.
BYU proved Saturday that it's much closer to perfection than UCLA is to mediocrity by routing the Bruins 59-0 at LaVell Edwards Stadium. It was the Bruins' worst defeat since a 76-0 loss to USC in 1929. If UCLA plays the way it did Saturday, the Trojans might beat the Bruins even worse when the teams meet at the Rose Bowl on Dec. 6.
The Bruins had no answer for anything BYU did and were shut out for the first time since 2001.
The Cougars played impeccably and seemed to play with a purpose after beating Washington 28-27 on a controversial ending last week.
"After the first drive, I thought we were going to be unstoppable against them," said BYU quarterback Max Hall, who completed 27 of 35 passes for 271 yards with seven touchdowns. "The offense today felt almost unstoppable."
The Cougars did it against a UCLA defense that gave them fits in the Bruins' 17-16 loss in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl. Hall led BYU on a 75-yard touchdown drive on its first possession, then put the Cougars ahead 14-0 on a 2-yard touchdown pass to Austin Collie with 14:30 to play in the first half.
Then things really got ugly for the Bruins. Defensive end Jan Jorgensen hit UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft from behind, causing him to fumble at the Bruins' 37. Hall threw a 37-yard touchdown to Collie on the very next play to make it 21-0.
On UCLA's second play of its ensuing possession, Craft pitched the football to tailback Raymond Carter on an option play. Cornerback Scott Johnson upended Carter, causing him to fumble. The Cougars recovered at the UCLA 30, and Hall threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to senior Michael Reed five plays later for a 28-0 lead.
UCLA fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and BYU recovered at the Bruins' 25. Three players later, Hall threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to tailback Harvey Unga for a 35-0 lead with 10:07 to go.
Hall finished the first-half scoring with a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta with 14 seconds to go in the half. Hall threw six touchdowns in the first half, and then tied the school record with his seventh scoring pass to Unga early in the third quarter.
Believe it or not, the final outcome might have been worse if Mendenhall hadn't pulled Hall after his seventh touchdown pass.
"We were determined to put a complete game together and that's the closest we've come," Mendenhall said. "I think it was a complete game as far as the offense performing well, the defense performing well and the special teams making a couple of key plays."
The Cougars were pretty close to perfect. They had 521 yards of total offense, running for 184 and passing for 337. BYU was 13-for-17 on third-down plays and 8-for-8 in the red zone.
"I did expect us to come out and play well and put a lot of points on the board," Hall said. "I wasn't expecting it to be quite like that, but it just started clicking for us. We took advantage of some turnovers and got momentum going for us."
Where do the Bruins go from here? They can only go up because they hit rock bottom Saturday. The Bruins hadn't played in 12 days, after upsetting then-No. 18 Tennessee 27-24 in overtime on Labor Day night. All the excitement Neuheisel generated in his first game was wiped out in three very long and painful hours Saturday.
The Bruins couldn't do anything right. They ran 16 times for only 9 yards. Craft, making his second start as UCLA's quarterback, completed 23 of 39 passes for 230 yards with one interception. The Bruins were 2-for-10 on third-down plays, 0-for-2 on fourth down and 0-for-2 in the red zone. UCLA had a field-goal attempt blocked and missed another one.
"If you are in this business long enough, you are going to get one like this pinned on you," Neuheisel said.
The good news for Neuheisel? The Bruins might not face another team as talented as BYU until they play USC in the regular-season finale.
The Cougars' road gets easier, too. They'll play their next three games in their home state -- home against Wyoming, at Utah State and home against New Mexico. BYU plays at TCU on Oct. 16 in what will probably be its toughest test before closing the regular season at rival Utah on Nov. 22.
With a 3-0 record, including a pair of victories over Pac-10 foes, it's not too early for BYU to start talking about BCS bowls.
"If you're a BCS team and you're not trying to get to a BCS bowl game, something is wrong with you," Hall said. "If you're a BCS program and you're not trying to get to one of the best bowl games, then something is wrong with your program."
There's not much wrong with BYU right now.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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