After concluding an interview as we stood in the sunshine of a classic September afternoon in Logan this week, I asked Riley Nelson for forgiveness.
My defense: How was I supposed to know that BYU’s next quarterback would complete only one-third of his passes?
Taysom Hill’s degree of accuracy should make a lot of us more tolerant of Nelson’s performance last season, when he was playing with a broken back. And that lack of passing proficiency will catch up to Hill and the Cougars, facing a Utah defense that will not be nearly as accommodating as Texas.
Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Kalani Sitake will have solid strategy for dealing with Hill’s read-option plays and the rest of BYU’s run-oriented scheme. Whittingham may not have enjoyed playing Air Force, but he beat the Falcons in seven of the last eight meetings in the Mountain West as a defensive coordinator or head coach.
That’s basically what BYU’s offense has become, and Whittingham will have ways to stop it.
On the other side, BYU will miss suspended linebacker Spencer Hadley. The Cougars will struggle to cover tight ends Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga, and quarterback Travis Wilson and his receivers will exploit BYU’s unproven cornerbacks.
Picking the Utes to win is a function of one of my basic beliefs, built on this phrase: “Until proven otherwise …”
In other words, why should 2013 by any different than the last three years — or most of the last 11 years? Only via occasional heroic plays at the end have the Cougars won in that period. This is the 20th anniversary of the famous 34-31 game in Provo that reconfigured the rivalry. But Saturday’s score will duplicate last September’s outcome: Utah 24, BYU 21.