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Across the board, the Utes said after their 24-0 win over Southern Utah that they expected more.
"We never really were not in control of the game," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We never were in complete control of the game."
But it could be worse much worse as others in the Pac-12 showed during college football's opening weekend.
USC was utterly unprepared for the defending national champions, dropping a 52-6 stunner to Alabama and looking extremely disorganized doing it. Washington State showed for a second straight year that it is vulnerable to FCS upsets at home, losing a shootout to Eastern Washington. UCLA's Josh Rosen threw three picks and couldn't quite steer the Bruins to victory in overtime against Texas A&M at College Station (albeit a tough opponent).
Then there was Arizona, which found offense at the end of its game against BYU, but whose defense faltered on the final Cougars drive in an 18-16 loss.
With that same BYU team coming to Rice-Eccles on Saturday evening, Utah finds itself in the position of not only needing a win against its in-state foe, but also picking up the banner for a wounded Pac-12. The conference stakes of the game add another note of urgency to an expected passionate week in the rivalry.
"Practice is going to be really focused on preparation," safety Marcus Williams said. "It's going to be really physical at practice. We're going to do what we need to do to get the W."
The game figures to match strength vs. strength: BYU's rushing ability versus Utah's defensive line.
The Cougars ran for 213 yards, led by Jamaal Williams' 162 and complemented by Taysom Hill's 37 yards. Neither player was available for Utah's 35-28 bowl win over BYU last year, when the Cougars scrounged up only 72 yards on the ground.
SUU challenged Utah's run defense last week, gaining 116 yards, but in the end the Utes found a rhythm particularly when the Thunderbirds' passing game stalled. Whittingham said he wants to see Utah's linebackers get off blocks better to make tackles in the run game. But with seniors and proven vets on his defensive line, he feels good about that particular unit.
"I think I could play behind those guys right now," he said. "Those guys are pretty stout up front."
The familiarity between staffs adds an unusual dynamic. BYU coach Kalani Sitake was not only a longtime assistant of Kyle Whittingham's, but also mentored Morgan Scalley and Sharrieff Shah, among others. The knowledge of former colleagues tendencies or otherwise may come into play in ways invisible to other viewers.
Utah is aiming for its sixth straight win in the series, the first played at Rice-Eccles since 2012. And while it is defending a spotless record, a streak and home-field honor, the Pac-12 needs defending, too.
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