“I don’t like Utah. In fact, I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, their fans, I hate everything”, declared an elated Max Hall following BYU’s 26-23 overtime victory over the Utes. “I think the whole university and their fans and the organization is classless.”
If you’re the type of sports fan that believes in curses, perhaps that now (in)famous exchange in BYU’s press room on November 28th, 2009 is the kind of bad juju that warrants some kind of supernatural bad luck, because, since that fateful night, BYU football has failed to topple their oldest rival. It has been 4,306 days, if not more, that will have passed since that last victory. Several talented quarterbacks have come and gone, from Jake Heaps to Tanner Mangum, and current NFL quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Zach Wilson, none have accomplished what Hall has. And if you’re the type to believe in curses, perhaps the only thing that can reverse that curse is a new Hall. Enter Jaren Hall.
The 6’1”, 205 lbs sophomore, who bears no relation to Max, had flashes of brilliance in week one against Arizona. Though his stat line was a modest 18/28 for 198 yards and two touchdowns, a deeper dive shows how well the young starter performed under pressure. The Wildcats blitzed often, and when they did, Hall was an impressive 12/17 and 4/4 under pressure. Stellar as a newly anointed full-time starter, even if Arizona’s defense is less than intimidating. Coverage, however, is a different story. Hall’s accuracy dropped to 54.5% when the Wildcats elected to drop back, and he seemed to struggle reading defenders. This could bode well for a Utah defense that historically prides itself on forcing turnovers.
Making things all the more interesting, the Nacua brothers looked poised to hit the field together for the first time in BYU blue, adding two proven commodities to the Cougar’s passing game. Samson (6’3”, 195 lbs) transferred back home to Provo for his senior season after four seasons at the U, where he tallied 82 receptions and 11 touchdowns, while younger brother Puka (sophomore, 6’1”, 210 lbs) joins by way of the Washington Huskies, where he spent his first two seasons. There, the rising star accounted for 16 receptions and three touchdowns. Both are speedy, elusive, and effective playmakers, capable of running off yards after the catch with ease. A confident Hall connecting with either of these two could prove to be quite electric.
Even if the Nacua brothers fail to live up to expectations, Utah’s secondary will need to account for junior Neil Pau’u (6’4”, 215 lbs), who reeled in both of Hall’s touchdown passes in week one, accounting for eight total receptions for 126 yards. Pau’u was a key component to BYU’s success last season with Wilson at the helm, and it appears as though his chemistry with Hall is just as strong early in the season.
On the ground, sophomore running back Tyler Allgeier (5’11”, 220 lbs) looks as good as ever. Coming off a 1,130-yard season, Allgeier ran for 94 yards against the Wildcats, finding the end zone once and nabbing one pass for seven yards. A shifty, agile Allgeier is capable of sliding between the tackles and snapping off long runs, and Utah’s defensive line will need to keep him corralled to keep the Cougars offense in check.
On paper, BYU has enough talent to keep things competitive with the Utes, at least early on. That could change as the game progresses, as the Cougars lack depth in key positions, including running back and tight end. Furthermore, a string of injuries against Arizona calls into question the quality of BYU’s strength and conditioning. Is Kalani Sitake’s squad truly able to stay healthy in back-to-back weeks against Power Five opponents? It’s possible, but the Cougars would be foolish to assume they can play at the same level they did week in and week out last season against inferior competition.
Ultimately, all of the analysis in the world is moot. No matter how much better one team is over the other, this matchup is more often than not determined by happenstance, fate, or just plain dumb luck. Either way, history, and maybe even curses, will be made or broken this Saturday in the 101st Holy War.