The BYU-Utah rivalry has entertained fans from both sides for decades. Over the past ten years, the outcome of the game has usually decided the Mountain West Conference champion. In addition, the two teams have brought their best games to the field and usually take their games down to the last possession.
All that changed when both of the teams left the MWC, Utah to the Pac-12 and BYU to a Division-I Independent status. Since the two conference disaffiliations, “The Holy War” has been played at the beginning of the season, and hasn’t determined the two teams’ seasons like it did for the last half-century.
BYU fans would probably like to forget last year’s debacle of a game against their heated rivals, in which the Cougars turned the ball over seven times, and were blown out at LaVell Edwards Stadium 54-10. The Utes out-rushed the Cougars by a margin of 242-11. Even though the sentiment of returning the favor at Rice-Eccles Stadium this Saturday may exist among fans, the athletes are focused on nothing but this year’s team.
“We’re not looking backwards,” junior wide receiver JD Falslev said. “The whole last season really left us hungry and left us wanting more. That’s evident on this team. We’re fighting for everything. We fight for every grain of grass. That’s evident on the field.”
Although the outcome of the seasons no longer hinge on how this particular game turns out, the rivalry between the two schools motivates the players.
“It’s always exciting (to play Utah) no matter what, but especially since last year,” junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman said. “We’re going to come ready on Monday, and practice hard.”
The Cougars come into the game ranked 25th in the country in the AP Poll with one of the top defenses in the country in the early season. They held the Weber State Wildcats to 254 total yards on Saturday, while holding Washington State to just 224 yards on Aug. 30. The two games mark the seventh and eighth consecutive games in which the Cougar defense has held their opponents to under 300 total yards in a game. Additionally, the Cougars had six sacks and forced three fumbles against Weber State.
“We shouldn’t be satisfied,” senior cornerback Preston Hadley said. “This wasn’t the best we’ve played. Two touchdowns is too much. Our team and our defense need to be hungry this week. Our goal is to not let anybody put up any points on us.”
The offense got off to a slow start on Saturday, scoring just seven points in the first quarter, and facing several three-and-outs against the Wildcats. However, the Cougars came on strong in the second half, posting 532 yards of total offense in the game, and scored four rushing touchdowns.
“The slow start was what it was,” senior quarterback Riley Nelson said. “We have to address that. We can’t ignore that. Just because we put together more scoring drives as the game went on doesn’t mean that it erased those miscues and mis-execution early on. We were able to come away with a pretty convincing win, but eager to evaluate our performance and hungry to get better.”
Nelson still was able to set a career high for passing yards in a half with 244 yards on 29 passes with a touchdown and an interception. He did not play in the second half, giving way to backups James Lark and Taysom Hill.
The Utes come in to the game with a 1-1 record, blowing out Northern Colorado in week one, and then losing to Utah State in a 27-24 overtime thriller on Friday night. Most of the Cougar players watched the game to evaluate their opponent.
“That was a fun football game to watch,” Nelson said. “You know, we play good football in the state of Utah. We play both of those teams and our games will probably look similar to that. Just knock down drag out physical football games. Points will be tough to come by.”
Utah will likely be without starting quarterback Jordan Wynn, who reinjured his shoulder in the loss to Utah State. The Utes may also be without star running back John White, who injured his ankle near the end of the Utah State game and may be out for 1-3 week, sources have reported.
The game will kick off at 8 p.m. in Salt Lake City.