The storyline is about what everyone predicted it would be when Utah and BYU clash Saturday in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
One team is in disarray with a suspect offense and a defense that has failed in critical moments.
The other team is rolling, sporting a national ranking, momentum and rising confidence.
So, any chance BYU and Utah played a big joke on all of us and switched colors before the season began? Talk about a role reversal.
Few could have imagined the Utes, picked to finish second in the Pac-12 South division, would look so vulnerable, while BYU, searching for respect and attention as an independent, marches into Rice-Eccles Stadium with a national ranking and soaring confidence.
It’s BYU-Utah all right, with another new twist to the state’s biggest rivalry.
For the Utes, they aren’t so much worried about the challenges BYU presents as they are about resolving all the issues that appeared in their loss to Utah State.
They’ve got a new quarterback, a reshuffled offensive line and a new attitude after losing to Utah State.
“We don’t want to be the third-best team in the state or anything like that,” said safety Quade Chappuis. “We want to win. Obviously it is a big rivalry and a lot of emotions, but like coach Whitt said, every game is big for us now.”
As for BYU, the Cougars have a new attitude too — or at least one that has been bolstered with their two wins. Now, with Utah’s weaknesses exposed and their own improved play, the Cougars feel they have a real chance at avenging last year’s 54-10 rout in the nationally televised game.
“It is big, and it is a big game,” BYU quarterback Riley Nelson said. “We just can’t make it bigger than it is by mentally getting to a state where you become tight and you start doing things that are uncharacteristic of you. So that’s going to be the challenge for us, to be able to stay cool, calm and collected and play our game in a hostile environment.”
In some ways, the Cougars would seem to have more at stake. Without a conference title to play for, the rivalry game with Utah stands as the highlight on the schedule.
Utah has also taken control of the series of late, winning seven of the past 10 games.
Then there is the matter of the series’ future. The Utes will play in Provo in 2013 and will host the Cougars in 2016, but there are no games in between and none scheduled beyond, with Utah seeking more scheduling flexibility because of its limited nonconference slate (three games annually).
The last thing the Cougars would want to do is leave the rivalry on a losing streak.
Utah’s concerns are more immediate, such as breaking in a new quarterback, finding some semblance of an offensive line and shoring up a suddenly suspect defense before the Pac-12 schedule begins.
But more than anything, the Utes want to beat BYU to prove they are a better team than the one they put on the field against the Aggies.
“It is something coach Whitt made clear: Don’t let one team beat you twice,” tight end Westlee Tonga said. “We can’t let that game against Utah State affect us this week. It’s a new day, a new week and this is a big one for us. If any team is going to take our minds off that loss, it is BYU. We always have tunnel vision for them.”
BYU at Utah
P Kickoff • 8 p.m.
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 700 AM,1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • Utah 1-1, BYU 2-0
Series history • Utah leads 55-34-4, although BYU doesn’t recognize six games (3-3) when it was Brigham Young Academy
Last meeting • Utah 54, BYU 10 (Sept. 17, 2011)
About the Utes • They are coming off a 27-20 overtime loss to Utah State in which quarterback Jordan Wynn suffered a career-ending shoulder injury. . .. Utah has won seven of its past 10 games against the Cougars. … Utah is 56-31-4 all-time in homecoming games. … Utah has yet to score in the first quarter of its games in 2012. … Opponents are converting 21 percent (6 for 28) on third-down attempts. … Tight end Jake Murphy ranks second on the team with seven catches for 80 yards.
About the Cougars • They have won six straight games dating back to 2011, the third-longest winning streak in the nation behind TCU (9) and Baylor (7). … They have won 10 of their past 11 games against Utah when they’ve had a senior quarterback start the game. … Receiver Cody Hoffman has caught a pass in 21 consecutive games. He has been thrown to 10 times this season, and has caught the pass every time. … They have held opponents to fewer than 300 yards of offense in eight straight games.