One of the more intense rivalries will go down again tonight when the Utah Utes (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) travels south to Provo, Utah to face the BYU Cougars (1-1) looking for a seventh-straight win. The Utes took care of business in week one defeating North Dakota 37-16. BYU started their season off on the right foot with a 20-6 win over Portland State in week 0. However, things did not go as well for the Cougars in week one when they were blanked 27-0 against LSU at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. This will be the second time that former Utah assistant Kalani Sitake faces his former team as the head coach of BYU.
The game in the trenches
Each team is built to be physical in the trenches. The Utah defensive line is considered to be one of the best in the country. They will face one of the best centers in the country in BYU’s Tejan Koroma. The BYU defensive line has a talented pass rusher in Sione Takitaki and several big defensive tackles. They will square off against a Utah offensive line that is replacing four starters who are now playing in the NFL. Because of the talent in the front seven for both of these teams, it could be difficult for each team to establish the run. Can the BYU hold off one of the best defensive lines in the country and open holes for running back Squally Canada to run through? Can Utah protect quarterback Tyler Huntley from Takitaki and others and give him time to find his playmakers?
Turnovers are huge in this rivalry. In the game at Rice-Eccles Stadium last year, there were nine turnovers in the football game. Utah turned over the football six times and still managed to win 20-19. In the 2015 meeting in the Las Vegas Bowl, Utah forced five turnovers to help them build a 35-0 first quarter lead. In Utah’s 54-10 beatdown of BYU in Provo in 2011, Utah forced seven turnovers in a game that had nine turnovers as well. Last year was the first time since BYU’s last win in 2009 that Utah did not win the turnover battle in this game. The team that was positive in the turnover margin has won seven of the last eight games dating back to 2008 (a game where Utah forced six turnovers and did not turn over the football once). The team that commits fewer turnovers in this game has a great chance to win the game.
The passing game could be key
As mentioned in the first point, both of these teams have good defensive lines, so it could be tough sledding running the football. Each of these teams will likely have to set up the run with the pass. Utah features a new quarterback in Huntley while BYU features junior Tanner Mangum. Mangum threw three interceptions, two of which were taken back for touchdowns. He also fumbled the ball once. He will need to play better to give the Cougars a chance to end Utah’s six game winning streak. The BYU receivers outside of freshman tight end Matt Bushman have struggled; senior Jonah Trinnaman, BYU’s leading returning receiver from 2016, has just one catch for 12 yards. This is a group that is light on experience; they lost the top three receivers from last season, and only Trinnaman topped 300 yards receiving last year of players who are back. Bushman has played well, hauling in seven passes for 99 yards, but they have struggled outside of him to get open in both of BYU’s games this season. They will face a talented but also inexperienced Utah secondary that likes to play press man coverage. Can someone outside of Bushman step up for BYU? Utah features a deep, proven wide receiver corps led by Oregon transfer Darren Carrington II. Carrington II had a career-high 10 catches in his first game in a Utah uniform. If BYU sells out to stop Carrington, other Utah wide receivers like Samson Nacua, Demari Simpkins, Raelon Singleton, and Siaosi Wilson could all step up in the passing game. Utah will also likely get the running backs involved in the passing game. The biggest questions for the Utah passing attack are how Huntley handles the hostile environment in LaVell Edwards Stadium, and can the Utah offensive line protect him and give him time to find his talented wide receivers?