Provo • Seven turnovers.
Along with the eye-popping final score, 54-10, that's the number that springs to mind when the BYU Cougars think about last year's rivalry game.
It's no surprise, then, that coach Bronco Mendenhall says taking care of the football is a priority for the Cougars when they travel to Salt Lake City for the rematch at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN2).
"We win if we hold onto the ball, and we lose if we don't," Mendenhall said. "It really is that cut-and-dried. And so hopefully we hold on to the ball."
Last year, the Cougars fumbled the ball away five times, Jake Heaps threw an interception and JD Falslev botched a third-quarter kickoff return.
"We have taken big strides forward [in taking care of the ball]," Falslev said after the Cougars played turnover-free in a 30-6 win over Washington State and had two giveaways against Weber State. "We have a lot of room to improve, but we did a lot better job this time taking care of the ball and getting those first downs."
In their last three losses to Utah (2011, 2010 and 2008), the Cougars have turned the ball over 17 times, while forcing just five turnovers. They lost all 10 of their fumbles in those losses. In their last three wins over Utah (2009, 2007 and 2006), they've had just two total turnovers.
BYU quarterback Riley Nelson said he needs to release the ball quickly on Saturday to cut down on turnovers.
"Hopefully, I don't give those guys a lot of opportunity to ... hit me," he said. "They are very talented pass rushers, and run-stoppers. ... You can't stop them, but hopefully we can neutralize them at times."
'Tree' is loving it
Utah is expecting its 14th straight sellout on Saturday for the visit from BYU, and the Cougars know they will face a hostile crowd in their last trip to Rice-Eccles until 2016. They do every two years, said linebacker Brandon Ogletree, who has vivid memories of the 2010 game, won 17-16 by Utah.
"Love it. Love it. Love their fans. Love the hostility. It is a great environment to play in," said the senior whose teammates call him Tree. "It is a pleasure to be up there."
Defense has been dominant
Whether Jon Hays or Travis Wilson is Utah's primary quarterback Saturday, the Cougar defense knows it will be tested, Ogletree said. The unit is working on a streak in which it hasn't allowed more than 300 yards of total offense in its last eight games.
Utah had 440 yards against Northern Colorado and 325 against Utah State.
"Eight games, that's a lot, and to be able to have that kind of production, not only at the end of last year, but how we've started this year, I think [the defense] is very consistent," Mendenhall said. "So hopefully we will be able to keep doing that exact same thing as this season progresses."
Battle of the brothers
Saturday's game will have special meaning for BYU tight end Kaneakua Friel, and not just because the opponent is Utah. Friel's younger brother, Kala Friel, is a redshirt freshman at Utah. Kala Friel is listed as the backup to Percy Taumoelau at right tackle for the Utes, along with Miles Mason.
Kaneakua Friel is off to a fantastic start for BYU. He leads the team with three touchdown catches and is tied with Cody Hoffman for the team lead with 10 receptions.