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Pressure, Destiny, Title On Line _ Just As Steve Sarkisian Likes It

November 7, 1996

PROVO, Utah (AP) _ Brigham Young’s Steve Sarkisian knows the Western Athletic Conference championship may be on the line against Rice Saturday.

Pressure. Destiny. All that stuff. The quarterback, who has led 12th-ranked BYU (9-1 overall, 5-0 WAC) to seven straight victories, loves it.

``Rice controls its own destiny, and so do we,″ said Sarkisian, the leader of the NCAA’s No. 3 passing offense. ``Any time you can play a big game, that’s what you play for.″

The Owls (5-3 overall, 4-1 WAC) have a four-game winning streak after a 1-3 start. Last week, Rice beat then 20th-ranked Utah 51-10.

Rice, 12-point underdogs to BYU, could create a three-way jam for first in the Mountain Division with a win. Sarkisian knows a loss to the Owls also could derail his plans for a Dec. 7 conference championship showdown with the Pacific Division winner.

``This is what the WAC dreamed up when it put this (expanded 16-team) conference together,″ Sarkisian said. ``They wanted these new teams to come in and compete, and that’s what they’re getting.″

``Rice looks like its on a roll,″ Cougars coach LaVell Edwards said. ``I’m glad we’re playing them here.″

While BYU overpowered Texas-El Paso 40-18 last week, the Owls continued their impressive first-year WAC season by compiling 496 yards and four TDs on the ground against Utah.

``We can’t simulate the quickness with which Rice runs the option, so they could make us look bad in a hurry,″ Edwards said.

Actually, Rice coach Ken Hatfield calls his scheme the ``Spread Option″ _ a frustrating mix of wishbone, veer, single-back and even a smidgen of West Coast offensive sets.

Whatever it is, Rice runners are thriving. In their last four games, the Owls averaged 458 yards on the ground.

``BYU is a highly ranked team and doing better than anyone we’ve played so far,″ Hatfield said. ``Nobody in America throws like BYU.″

Funny he should say that. Edwards wonders where his passing attack was last week, though it still is averaging 339.8 yards per game. The Cougars had to depend on big defensive and special teams plays _ a 65-yard interception return, a 100-yard kickoff runback _ to beat UTEP.

Sarkisian, second in the NCAA in passing efficiency, managed only 235 yards passing last weekend, his lowest output of the season. He had two touchdown passes, but also was intercepted twice.

``(Rice’s) defense is very disciplined,″ Sarkisian said. ``They put on a nice pass rush, and their linebackers do a nice job dropping into their zones while recognizing when they need to come up _ which they do, hard.″

Edwards echoed those concerns, and warned his players not to look past the Owls.

``There are a lot of land mines out there before we can worry about any bowl games,″ he said.

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