Utes aren't free from pressure: bowl hopes may rest on outcome.
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Provo • Every matchup has been analyzed, every intangible ferreted out and every possible scenario seemingly scrutinized to death, but given its crazy history over the past 20 years, nobody really knows what will happen when the Utah vs. BYU football rivalry plays out on Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
It is part of what makes the state's biggest rivalry so intriguing and special, if one can look past the nastiness it tends to bring out from both sides. Don't kid yourself into believing that anything else comes close.
But as the 1-1 Cougars and 2-1 Utes get set to battle for the 95th time (or 89th time, depending on which school you wish to believe), one aspect seems to stand out, after listening to coaches and players from both sides: BYU is definitely feeling more pressure to get the win this year.
"All the games mean a lot," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "But this one, it just lasts longer."
And if the Cougars don't snap their three-game losing streak to the Utes on Saturday, the loss will last even longer than before. That's because the teams aren't scheduled to play again until 2016.
"Nobody wants to have to dwell on a loss for three years," BYU quarterback Taysom Hill acknowledged.
Despite coming off a 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State and not having an extra week to prepare for the rivalry like BYU had this year, the Utes are still confident. After all, they walloped BYU 54-10 the last time they were in Provo, and believe they dominated last year's 24-21 win more than the final score would indicate. BYU has defeated Utah by more than a touchdown just once in the past 20 years, by a 37-17 count in 1996.
"The focus and concentration is there," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "They are all dialed in and that is what you want to see."
In a way, Utah, which is a one-touchdown underdog, is playing with house money. But for the Utes, the outcome could very well determine whether they go to a bowl game or not.
So there's that pressure, and also an expected sellout crowd of more than 64,000 to deal with in their first road game of 2013.
"Going away is always a tough challenge, especially in the rivalry game it plays a big part," said Utes tight end Jake Murphy, who originally signed with BYU out of American Fork High. "… We have quite a bit of experience coming back on offense and defense and have played in places that are loud. The main thing is being disciplined and be careful with that crowd noise and atmosphere down there."
Murphy could have a big game because the BYU linebacker who likely would have defended him on passing routes, Spencer Hadley, was suspended Tuesday for an honor code violation and will not play.
For the Cougars, the keys to winning are fairly simple, Mendenhall said this week.
They must win the turnover battle, win the field position battle with stellar special teams play, and become more balanced offensively after Hill ran wild against Texas but passed the ball poorly for the second straight game.
"Every game is big, but this is a rivalry game," BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae said. "Turnovers completely reveal themselves in the outcome."
The Utes are expected to put eight defenders near the line of scrimmage, blitz often, and dare Hill to beat them with his arm.
"No doubt in my mind, Utah's defense is better than Texas' [defense]," Anae said. "No doubt in my mind."
Offensively, look for Utah to try to spread BYU's defense out, and take plenty of shots downfield to Dres Anderson and other playmakers.
Reporter Lya Wodraska contributed to this story.
Utah at BYU
O At LaVell Edwards Stadium (Provo)
Kickoff • 8:15 p.m. TV • ESPN2
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, 700 AM
Records • BYU 1-1, Utah 2-1
Series history • Utah leads, 56-34-4
Last meeting • Utah 24, BYU 21 (Sept. 15, 2012)
About the Utes • They are coming off a 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State. ... James Poole has replaced senior Kelvin York as the starting running back after rushing for 117 yards against the Beavers. ... The status of linebacker Jacoby Hale, York and backup running back Karl Williams is unknown. All three sat out the Oregon State game due to injuries...This is their first road game this season. … They are 18-17-1 in Provo. ... They are 1-1 during night games this year.
About the Cougars • They have lost three straight games to Utah, but two of the three were decided on the final play. … Sophomore RB Jamaal Williams is averaging 163 rushing yards per game, the third-best average in the country. … They had a bye last week, and haven't played since tallying a school-record 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 win over Texas. … K Justin Sorensen is 5-for-5 on field goal attempts this year. … TE Kaneakua Friel and DB Drew Reilly have brothers (Kala Friel and Trevor Reilly) who play for the Utes.