The Cougars or the Beavers?
Which team would I rather beat?
Oh how simple; I am most eager
For the Y to go down in defeat!
COMMENTARY — If I had to choose between beating Oregon State last week, or beating BYU this week, with the express understanding that Utah could only win one of the two games, I would take a win over BYU in a New York minute.
I have even conducted an unofficial, informal poll among ten not-so-random Utah fans, and they are unanimous in their agreement with me on this point.
“It’s not just another game to us,” said Utah linebacker Jason Whittingham, whose hometown just happens to be Provo. “It’s a silver lining when we don’t have a great year like last year.”
Now don’t get me wrong, in a perfect world I would much prefer wins over both Oregon State and BYU. Obviously, that is not going to happen this year, but Utah still has a legitimate shot at beating BYU.
But, alas, I am getting ahead of myself. A few comments on the overtime loss to Oregon State last Saturday are warranted before looking ahead to the match-up with BYU this Saturday.
As Yogi Berra so famously said, “it’s like déjà vu all over again.”
Last year in Corvallis, Utah more or less handed the game to Oregon State by coughing the ball up three times. Two of those turnovers occurred in the shadow of the end zone and Oregon State promptly turned both turnovers into touchdowns which ended up being the margin of victory.
Last Saturday in Salt Lake City, Oregon State actually outplayed Utah in the first half. If that had been the case in the second half then the loss might have been a little easier to swallow. However, Utah finally came alive in the second half and turned the game into a good, old-fashioned Western shootout.
Reminiscent of last year, Utah had three very costly turnovers. Plus, the Utes consistently allowed Oregon State to convert third and long. Considering those two things, it is actually somewhat incredible that Utah was able to even force overtime before finally succumbing to Oregon State.
All of that is now water under the bridge and it is time to move on. A new week lies before us, culminating in the Holy War on Saturday night.
This week’s contest promises to be an epic battle for the ages that will leave fans on both sides of the rivalry just itching for the rematch that won’t occur until the Holy War resumes in 2016 after a two-year hiatus.
BYU is coming off of a record-setting rushing performance against previously ranked Texas. However, BYU still hasn’t proven that it can consistently move the ball through the air. On the other side of the ball, Utah has been very good at shutting down the run, although its pass defense has been suspect at times.
I’m betting that the Utes aren’t going to let Taysom Hill beat them with his legs, and Hill is going to have to prove he has the arm to be a starting quarterback at BYU.
Utah’s offense has a nasty habit of starting slow. BYU’s defense itself has shown a real nasty streak at times. The Utes had better account for Kyle Van Noy on every play, and otherwise play a solid game from the opening kickoff rather than trying to play from behind in the second half.
The respective strengths and weaknesses of Utah and BYU make this a very intriguing match-up, even without the emotion of the rivalry. Add in that emotion and you are just pouring more fuel on an already lit fire.
I know the fans make a big deal about the rivalry. Whether they are willing to admit it or not, the coaches and the players also care.
BYU’s opening weekend loss to Virginia has likely cemented the Cougars a spot in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. BYU has no conference championship to play for either. More importantly, after losing to Utah for three straight years, and a two-year hiatus coming up, many BYU players are in danger of ending their career without ever having beaten Utah.
Hans Olson, a former BYU player himself, has frankly admitted that the Cougars’ record against Utah during a player’s career is a big deal. The same is true for Utah. Utah players would like nothing more than to sweep BYU.
“We all know that BYU is maybe the most sought after game of the year,” Jason Whittingham said. “We’ll all be ready to play.”
From a coaching standpoint, Kyle Whittingham admitted at the outset of this year that last year’s loss to Utah State had a lasting impact on him. As a former BYU player himself, I am willing to bet a loss to BYU would have an even greater impact on him.
And let’s not forget recruiting. If BYU goes six years without beating Utah (four consecutive years and then the two-year hiatus), I guarantee that is going to be brought up in discussions with potential recruits.
One surprise to me in conjunction with writing this column was that cheering in the press box is frowned upon during games. For me, that sometimes poses a problem as I have never made any secret as to where my loyalties lie — I absolutely bleed red. At the end of the Oregon State game, an announcement was made over the intercom in the Utah press box reminding the media that there is to be no cheering in the press box — and I wasn’t even the culprit! If there was cheering by the media for the Oregon State game, then I guarantee I won’t be the only member of the media trying to restrain myself during the BYU game.
Here’s to hoping the Utah Utes give me enough to cheer about that I get thrown out of the press box at Cougar Stadium this Saturday (although I am going to make a very concerted effort not to do so).
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