It's finally that time of year. Marriages are put to the test, friendships pushed to the limits and families become divided; Rivalry week is here. The two Mountain West Conference powers that are separated by just 35 miles are set to square off in what may be one of the most even matchups that we have ever had in the Holy War. Both teams are sitting at (9-2) with BYU ranked 19 and Utah at 21 in the BCS standings, battling for bragging rights in the state of Utah. Does it get much better than this?
This will be just the third time that both teams have been ranked at the same time in this rivalry. Each of the last two resulted in victories for Utah, with the most recent being Utah's 48-24 beat-down over BYU last year. I wouldn't expect either team to blow the other out however. 10 of the last 12 games between these two bitter rivals as been decided by seven points or less.
Revenge, like always, will be a key in this game. BYU senior quarterback Max Hall is looking to make up for his lackluster performance in 2008 when he threw 5 interceptions and fumbled, without throwing a single touchdown pass. Utah meanwhile is looking for revenge from their last trip to Provo when BYU completed a 4th and 18 pass on their final game winning drive. All Ute fans will always remember Austin Collie's "magic happens" quote after that loss.
BYU is looking to win through their run game. The Cougar's power back, Harvey Unga is having a dominating season and needs just 100 yards rushing against the Utes to reach 1,000 on the season. BYU will try to pound the ball inside and use their size as an advantage. Lets see if BYU offensive coordinator, Robert Anae sticks to the run this year.
The Utes have showed weaknesses in the run defense this season, but they have also had great moments. They are allowing 142 yards rushing per game, but more importantly struggled against the two teams that beat them: Oregon and TCU. The Utes allowed 217 yards rushing to the Ducks and 342 to the Horned Frogs
BYU must utilize their advantage in the run game. In last years loss Harvey Unga was averaging 7.7 yards per carry, but was just given the ball just 15 times. It is going to be very important for BYU to get an early lead so that they don't have to rely too much on passing, putting pressure on Max Hall. If they fall behind early, Max Hall will have to make make plays for BYU, which in his history against the Utes suggests that he isn't fully capable of doing so.
Utah is going to try to beat BYU with their many offensive weapons. The Ute offense is fairly diverse which can pose problems for a less athletic Cougar squad. With Jordan Wynn, the Utah offense added an important dimension, the deep ball. Bronco Mendenhall will likely take this away, so Wynn must complete all type of throws, importantly the middle of the field throw. Mendenhall had nice words to say about Wynn in his press conference:
"He does throw the ball accurately, he throws the deep ball especially well. He has certainly enough mobility to run their offense in addition to that . If the game ends up being one where they choose to protect and attack our back end, then we'll have to modify our zones so that they cant be outrun as they were against San Diego State.
Earlier in the season, BYU's passing game would give the Utes all sorts of problems. That may not be the case Saturday. Utah's secondary has vastly improved improved throughout the season. Kyle Whittingham noted that in his press conference:
"Seems like on a weekly basis they have taken a step forward... And relative to their experience they have played very well."
Dennis Pitta is going to be the guy that the Utes key in on. He is Max Hall's favorite target and is one of the the top Tide Ends in the country. Last season Pitta played injured in the game and was a non-factor catching just two passes for 33 yards. He will be looking to put together a good performance for his final game against the Utes.
This game —like all between BYU and Utah— should be a great one. It is the only game this week featuring two Top 25 teams. The game is being played at BYU in Provo, but historically that is not a factor. The visiting team has won 12 of the last 20 games in the Holy War.
With BYU's program finally getting back to the level that they were at in the Lavell Edwards era, and Utah establishing itself as a BCS Busting powerhouse, this game seems to be getting bigger and bigger. Kyle Whittingham agrees:
"I think it keeps getting bigger and bigger. When both teams are doing well that adds a different dimension to the game, where as in a lot of years past it was one team up and one team down. Recently it has been both teams up which is healthy, and positive for the rivalry."
You can certainly expect this game to go down to the wire and possibly overtime. The matchup is dead even, but I think Utah does has a slight edge. Offensively I think the Utes are too diverse for the Cougars to stop, and I think the Utes will do a decent job of stopping the BYU run. If BYU falls behind early and Hall panics, the margin of victory could be even larger for the Utes.