It’s rivalry week for the Cougars and Utes! Both teams have plenty of extra motivation to do win this year. BYU would like to forget about last year’s 54-10 demolition in Provo last year, and Utah would like to rebound after an overtime loss to Utah State. The Cougars and Utes will meet up this Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
The Utes started off strong against cupcake Northern Colorado, who they blanked 41-0. These games don’t mean a whole lot, but the Utes performed as expected, gaining 414 offensive yards compared to just 114 for UNCO. The game was scoreless until the 2nd quarter, when the Utes exploded for 21 points.
Last week of course, Utah fell to Utah State in overtime. The Utes started off slowly again, and the Aggies capitalized, jumping out to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter. The first Aggie touchdown was a blocked punt that they recovered in the endzone. Utah was held to just 96 yards rushing, and was only 2/17 on third down conversions. Probably the biggest development for the Utes in this game was the re-aggravation of Jordan Wynn’s shoulder injury, which allowed backups Wilson and Hays to provide a comeback rally and force the game to OT. Ultimately I think the Utes are going to be much better off Wynnless.
Special observation: Travis Wilson’s TD came on a flea-flicker, which is a play that Weber State so very nearly connected on against BYU. I’d definitely be on the lookout for that to be called at least once.
The Cougars are coming off two solid wins. In week 1 they faced Washington State, and dismantled the crimson Cougars 30-6. There aren’t many games in Mike Leach’s career when his team was held without a touchdown, but this was one of them.
Last week, BYU faced Weber State, and while the Cougars did everything they were supposed to, in winning 45-13, I’d say the overall impression given by the team is that something is still off. We have yet to see a 100 yard rushing performance by a single player, and that has a lot to with an offensive line that is still not quite in sync. The Weber State game was a great opportunity to see some lesser-known Cougars, including backup quarterbacks James Lark and Taysom Hill, who both looked very good.
Keys to the game
Riley Juice. The juice will have to be flowing for Riley and his receivers. In last year’s matchup, it was Heaps at the helm. Jake threw for 305 yards, but that came on 50 attempts with only 27 completions. Riley came in in relief and completed an additional 3/6 passes. If there was a star, it was Cody Hoffman, who caught 8 passes for a total of 138 yards. Riley’s ability to convert third downs must be a factor for the Cougars to win. Last year they only managed to convert 35% against Utah.
The Rush Attack. This is a unit I have questioned this season, as well as early last season. Mostly I wish there were someone you could truly point to and say, he’s the guy, and he’s going to get 100 yards this game. Our team average has been fine, but even against Weber State, our top rusher (Alisa) only ran for around 50 yards. In last year’s game, DiLuigi rushed 7 times for 31 yards, but Heaps (-29) and Nelson (-2) combined to erase that. The rest of the team totaled 11 rushing yards. Eleven. A big factor in this is our offensive line, which have yet to perform well as a unit. Against both WSUs, we struggled to run up the middle.
Special Teams. Special teams determined the outcome of Utah’s game last week, with Utah State blocking a punt and recovering the ball in the endzone. Utah also missed a 52 yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation which would have won the game. I do miss the days when you could almost count on the Cougars to block kicks regularly. If they can repeat the block-to-touchdown feat that the Aggies did, it would certainly be a game-changer.
Turnovers. Last year’s comedy of errors included 7 turnovers by the Cougars, and an invitation from the local Arby’s to bring in your ticket stub for a free one. Heaps threw an INT and there were 6 fumbles. In fact, each of BYU’s first three drives ended in fumbles, by Heaps, Quezada, and DiLuigi. The Cougars will have to win the turnover battle this Saturday to take down the Utes.
Bronco D. The offense was awful, and they gave up the ball deep in their own territory more times than any defense could have been prepared to overcome, but this unit has got to be hungry for some vengeance. Jordan Wynn didn’t accomplish anything special with the passing game, but John White IV rushed for 174 yards and two TDs as the Utes piled up 242 total rushing yards on the Cougars. Where BYU had a streak of 3 possessions that ended in fumbles, Utah had a streak of 4 consecutive scoring possessions, which netted 23 points in 4 minutes of game time. One area the defense really did well in last year was on 3rd downs, where they held the Utes to only a 23% conversion rate.
Any time a team beats you 54-10, it’s humbling. It makes you wonder at least a little bit if you will ever beat them again. For whatever reason, Utah had BYU’s number last year, and they made us pay for each and every miscue. The safe prediction is that the game will not be as lopsided as last year. This year’s Cougar offense and defense are already playing at a higher level than they were last year, and Utah just lost to Utah State. Sure, Utah State is probably better than they were, but it sure makes me feel better heading into this game…although it may have just given the Utes another reason to come into this game pissed off.
I’ll pick the Cougars in a close one that they’ll win 31-24.