By Michael Barzee
The Holy War is a game that defines the success of a football season; a win heals the wounds of the season?s shortcomings and a loss cuts to the heart of any accomplishment to that point.
In his inaugural season, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall has lead the Cougars to a winning season and bowl eligibility but one big obstacle still stands in his way for a successful first season-the Utes.
?As you look at the passion in which both fan bases support their programs,? Mendenhall said, ?in a state where there is a family emphasis and a sports-minded emphasis, and there is a tradition that dates back to so many great games, great players and great coaches. I”m just humbled and honored to be part of this rivalry in this position. I truly intend to prepare our team to play reflective of how we respect and honor this rivalry.?
Coming into the game, BYU and Utah are headed in opposite directions. For the Cougars, they have won five of their last six games, including five straight conference victories. Regardless of the outcome this weekend, BYU is guaranteed a piece of second place in the Mountain West Conference. On the other hand, the Utes are struggling as of late. They have lost four of their last six games after starting the season 3-1.
To make matters worse for the Utes, starting quarterback Brian Johnson was hurt late in the fourth quarter in a 31-27 loss against New Mexico. Johnson has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference averaging 337 yards per game. What sets Johnson apart from other passers in the conference is his ability to run. He has rushed for 478 yards and eight touchdowns. Also, Utah?s leading receiver John Madsen was injured in the same game as Johnson. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is focusing his team on the game at hand and not the injuries.
?The disappointment of losing the game paled in comparison to the loss of our starting quarterback Brian Johnson and our top receiver John Madsen to season-ending injuries,? Whittingham said in a press release. ?The only thing we can do now is move forward and get ready to play our final game of the season versus BYU.?
With these injuries, Utah will look to running back Quinton Ganther. He has rushed for 869 yards and six touchdowns this season for the Utes. However, the Cougar defense will focus on stopping Ganther, forcing back up quarterback Brett Ratliff to step up.
?He is a great running back,? BYU linebacker Cameron Jensen said. ?He is a physical running back and we know that they will be relying heavily on him big time.?
For BYU, both the offense and defense seems to be peaking at the right time. In the Cougars? last five games, they are averaging 493 yards of total offense and 40 points per game.
The Utah defense will be deploying a similar defense to that of TCU, with man-to-man coverage in the secondary. Against TCU, the Cougars had their way with man-to-man coverage, passing the ball for a season high 517 yards and five passing touchdowns.
?We are confident in the guys that we have offensively and that we will be able to execute,? Beck said.
After struggling to get turnovers at the beginning of the season, the Cougar defense have been swarming on the ball in the last three games. Over that span, the defense has recovered five fumbles and stole eight interceptions.
?People are starting to get more confidence in the secondary, on breaking on the balls,? Jensen said. ?People are more sound in their assignments to put them in position. I also think we are doing a good job of stripping the ball.?
They have also had success sacking the quarterback, while the Utes have had problems protecting the quarterback. Against New Mexico, who plays the same 3-3-5 defensive scheme as BYU, the Utes allowed nine sacks.
With history as the marker, the Holy War throws all records, statistics and injuries out the door. Simply, it comes down to the team who scores the most points, wins.
?You are out there, the fans are yelling and you know you are lining up against Utah,? Jensen said. ?There is nothing like it.?
The game is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.