Some smart guy once said people are pretty much alike, it’s just that their differences are more susceptible to definition than their similarities.
The same can be said for college football teams. Except this season, two of the state’s big three, BYU and Utah, are defined instead by their similarities, which altogether isn’t a good thing. Those similarities, and calling them out as such, bother both teams, and both teams’ fan bases. Unpleasant though it might be, the truth is, the Cougars have become Utes and Utes have become Cougars. They are mirror images of each other.
Let us count the ways:
1. Compromised quarterback situations • Both teams came into the season with concerns about their QBs — from a standpoint of capability and durability. And both of those concerns not only were valid, they came to fruition, as it were.
Jordan Wynn had a diminished arm to begin with due, in part, to past injuries, and that problem became irrelevant when he fell to the turf against Utah State with another hurt shoulder. Now, he’s retired.
At least he knew when to quit. Riley Nelson never had a great arm, but when he tried to play against Boise State with a bad back, he had an equal number of completions and turnovers. He later said he was operating at 65 percent for that game. Nelson, at that percentage, wouldn’t start for some high school teams in Utah. How he talked Brandon Doman and Bronco Mendenhall into allowing him to play is a question only the coaches can answer. But there are no good explanations.
Utah has a talented freshman, Travis Wilson, to replace Wynn, but reasonably opted for its senior backup Jon Hays. He will do a plumber-like job for the Utes, attempting not to lose games rather than win them. Still, somebody on offense has to win games and, at present, that force is missing.
BYU also has a talented freshman, Taysom Hill, who, in departure from Utah, got the first call in the second half against the Broncos, while former top backup, senior James Lark, stayed on the bench. At BYU, the quarterback, whoever it is, has to be the man who wins games. LaVell Edwards wrote that rule long ago.
2. Coaching questions • After each loss, Kyle Whittingham has pointed the finger at himself and his coaches for doing a substandard job of preparing the Utes for victory. People are starting to believe him. Utah got off to a horrible start against the Aggies in Logan, and whatever occurred at Arizona State on Saturday night should be put out of view of the innocent.
Everyone in the program was embarrassed by that showing, including Whittingham. The offense got 200 yards, the defense gave up 500, and the game was lost before the first half ended. Hapless is as apt a word as any to describe the overall effort.
There has to be a disconnect somewhere between coaches and players, and, as bad as that sounds, if there’s not, it’s even worse. That would mean the Utes, instead of confused, are flat-out awful. Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is taking heat for his share of the ineptitude.
Including a win over Northern Colorado, Utah is scoring just 23 points a game. In four games, the Utes have totaled 430 rushing yards, which is far below the norm for them and less than their opponents. In passing yards, they’ve been outgained by 110. They’ve given up more first downs than they’ve gained, and their third-down conversions are successful a mere 31 percent of the time (19 of 62).
Mendenhall has stayed defiant/stubborn amid the rolling debris of his bad judgment on going for two rather than kicking against Boise State, a decision that cost the Cougars their best chance at that win. Worse, his logic behind the decision was flawed. The BYU offense has been tepid, led by Doman, with the Cougars averaging just 219 passing yards a game, even though two of the four opponents they’ve faced — Washington State and Weber State — are not good.
If the job of coaches is to put their teams in the best position to perform their best, Utah and BYU coaches are face-planting big time.
3. The records • The Cougars are 2-2. The Utes are 2-2.
4. Offensive line issues • Neither of these lines is meeting minimum requirements, and that’s a huge shortcoming. Perhaps the most important position group in football, nothing much is happening up front in the positive. For the Utes, Wynn is already injured and Hays was wrecked a few times at ASU. As mentioned, the run game, normally a given for the Utes, is nowhere near what it typically is. Where have you gone, Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen?
BYU’s O-linemen were supposed to be more fit and better conditioned than in past seasons. That improved neither their timing, nor their ability to block. Basics have killed them, including troubles with synchronization at the snap of the ball and snapping the ball when the quarterback is expecting it. Run blocking and pass protection have both been subpar.
5. Underperforming and underutilized playmakers • Both schools have them — Cody Hoffman, DeVonte Christopher, Ross Apo, Dres Anderson, Kaneakua Friel, Jake Murphy, Michael Alisa, John White and others. Both offenses must find a way to get the ball into these guys’ hands, quicker and more often.
6. Defense • It’s the core of each team. BYU’s defense has been stellar, and if the Cougars hope to stay in games against their top competition — thus far, they are 0-2 — they will have to increase defensive superiority. BYU ranks seventh overall nationally, giving up only 275 total rushing yards. Opponents have averaged 2.1 yards a carry, and they’ve scored less than 13 points a game. Even the pass defense has been better than expected. The Cougars have allowed two passing touchdowns.
The Utes’ defense was solid — until Arizona State made it look slap-silly, putting up 31 first-half points and, on the whole, outgaining Utah by 48 rushing yards and 255 passing yards.
It’s still the strength of Utah’s team, which, at this point, speaks for itself.
7. Head-to-head competition • The difference between these two teams where it matters most — on the scoreboard — is a field goal that clanked off an upright.
Essentially, BYU and Utah are twins, and neither likes what he sees when he looks in the mirror.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.