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Friday, September 16, 2011

Game Preview: BYU and Utah Follow Same Path to Get to Rivalry Game

The Brigham Young Cougars and the Utah Utes aren’t in the same conference anymore, but that hasn’t stopped them from following the same path to their historic 2011 meeting.

Both BYU and Utah come into game three with a 1-1 record. After underwhelming wins in week one, they both went on the road and lost close games to opponents with some of the biggest name cache in the nation. Both teams have new offensive coordinators and are looking for a boost in offensive production. This is how the stage has been set for a historic meeting between the Cougars and the Utes.

This game is historic for several reasons. It is the first time ever that BYU and Utah have played without being members of the same conference. It is the first time in over 50 years that the two schools will play in September. It is the first time in nearly 45 years that they will play earlier than November. It will also be the first time that both teams wear their home uniforms.

Each team can add historical significance to this game with a win. With a win, Utah would beat BYU two years in a row for the first time in the Bronco Mendenhall era. BYU wants to make history by beating Utah by more than seven points for the first time in 15 years. It would also be the first time since 1991 that either team has won three games in a row as the home team.

This game will come down to which offense can be more productive. Bronco Mendenhall has the BYU defense playing as good, if not better, than any Cougar D in recent memory. The defense is always the strength of the Utes under defensive minded head coach Kyle Whittingham.

The Utah offense came into the year without many expectations. Quarterback Jordan Wynn disappointed in his sophomore year, and had shoulder surgery during the offseason. The running back corps was wiped out, and only one really experienced receiver returned. Wynn hasn’t done much to inspire anyone yet this year, but John White IV has averaged 103 yards rushing per game. However, he could only muster 56 yards on 20 carries against USC.

The BYU offense was supposed to be world beaters. With a whole offseason to continue developing, Jake Heaps and company were supposed to rival the 2006 and 2008 BYU offenses for firepower and fireworks. After two games, the offense has fans agitated for failure to score points and for a second half melt down against Texas. The wide receivers aren’t visibly any better than a year ago, and the run game has regressed. Heaps looked like a freshman in the second half of the Texas game.

Predicting which offense will rise to the challenge is difficult. BYU’s offense is challenged mentally. They have all the physical ability required to beat Utah, but mental issues have really hindered the Cougars production. Nevertheless, the Utah defense is probably the worst defense BYU has faced all season—on paper.

Kyle Whittingham always gets the most out of his team in the BYU game. While the Ute defense surrendered over 400 yards to USC and 258 yards to Montana State, it is almost guaranteed that nothing will come easy for BYU against the Utah defense.

The yards won’t come any easier for the Utah offense, either. The BYU defense is very, very stout against the run. White is a smallish back (5’8”, 186 pounds), so he won’t be able to power his way through the middle of the Cougar front seven. The speed of Kyle Van Noy and Jordan Pendleton will make it hard for White to get to the outside. Mendenhall will probably look to pressure Wynn early and knock him down a few times to rattle him, similar to 2009.

About the only thing that is certain about this game Saturday is that it will go down to the wire.

Things to watch for:
  1. The 13-0 curse. BYU might have broken the all white uniform curse against Ole Miss, but the Cougars now have a different curse to deal with. A curse that started against Utah last year. In the last three BYU games where one team has built a 13-0 lead, that team has gone on to lose the game.
  2. TDs not FGs. Finishing drives has proven to be critical for BYU, and not just in 2011. BYU has had four games against Utah since 2000 go down to the wire simply because BYU failed to finish drives with touchdowns. No one knows this better than BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. He quarterbacked BYU in the 2000 game which was the worst game in terms of settling for field goals.
  3. Doman vs. Chow. Speaking of Doman, he never got a shot at quarterback while Norm Chow was coaching at BYU. After Chow left, Doman got his shot and became a Cougar legend. Both men are now offensive coordinators for their alma maters. There is no doubt that Doman would like for his offense to out perform Chow’s.
  4. Moving the Pocket. BYU needs to move the passing pocket for Jake Heaps. Heaps has done well on short roll outs this year. When Texas stepped up the pressure in the second half, Heaps needed more time to throw. If Heaps isn’t getting the time he needs this week, Doman needs to help Heaps by moving the pocket to buy Heaps more time and allow receivers to run their routes and get open.
  5. The Juice must be loose. BYU needs Joshua “Juice” Quezada to break out. The run game must have an impact. Without it, the Utah defense can focus all its attention on stopping the pass, which will probably spell disaster.
  6. Should the BYU defense tone it down? Last year against Utah, the BYU defense forced Utah to make a quarterback change. After quickly intercepting two Terrence Cain passes, Utah sent Wynn back in the game and he led Utah to victory. Last week, the BYU defense intercepted two passes in the first quarter. This led to Texas making a quarterback change that sparked the offense. Normally, playing to the best of your ability is a good thing. BYU, however, might be better off if the defense only played at 90%.
TIME: 7:15 PM (Mountain Time)
TV: ESPN2, ESPN3.com
RADIO: KSL 1160AM, 102.7 FM, http://www.ksl.com/

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

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