BYU set to battle Utah with rivalry hiatus looming

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BYU football looks to end a three-game losing streak against Utah when the two teams face each other in Provo on Saturday.

The two teams have played each other every year since World War II, but due to conference realignment and scheduling difficulty, the rivalry is set to take a two-year break starting next season. The teams will play each other again in 2016, with recently scheduled contests in 2017 and 2018. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall admits to being disappointed by the upcoming hiatus.

BYU running back Jamaal Williams makes a cut during a run versus Utah in 2012. Photo by Chris Bunker
BYU running back Jamaal Williams makes a cut during a run versus Utah in 2012. (Photo by Chris Bunker)

“I’m opposed to the game stopping for any reason. I think it’s one of the reasons college football is such a cool thing,” Mendenhall said. “I think you schedule around the (rivalry) game. That goes in first, and every other game happens after.”

For many BYU players, Saturday’s game is the last chance to get a win against their in-state rival. BYU senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy is 0-3 against the Utes.

“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t (say I) think about (going winless against Utah), but I’m not going to sit here and weigh that,” Van Noy said. “I’m a competitor, and I don’t like losing. I’m 0-3 (against Utah), and I want to be 1-3.”

Utah is coming off an emotional overtime loss to Oregon State in its homecoming game last week. With upcoming games against national powerhouses Stanford and Oregon, the Utes would love nothing more than to get a quality win early in their difficult season.

“The rivalry is always there,” said Utah sophomore running back James Poole. “Me personally, I feel like it’s another game we have to win. Yes it’s BYU, but I feel we need to win this game no matter who it was.”

Turnovers have been an issue for the Cougar offense against Utah in recent years. In the last eight games against Utah, BYU has turned the ball over 14 more times than have the Utes.

“That’s what’s changing the outcome,” Mendenhall said. “There are other contributing factors, but I credit Utah for playing well and creating turnovers.”

With all the hype that surrounds the rivalry, players and coaches on both teams say their preparation hasn’t been affected.

“We try to approach each week the same, and we have a preparation process that we adhere to,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “This week is no different in that regard.”

BYU defensive coordinator Nick Howell knows that a lot of passion comes with the rivalry. He said he is trying to help his players combine that fire with focus and expertise come Saturday.

“Passion is good,” said Howell, “but the emotion, joy and the confidence come when you know what the crap you’re doing.”

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