University of Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham has myriad reasons for why the Utah-BYU rivalry’s meaning has waned in recent years.
It’s been since 2011 that both teams played in the same conference.
The teams don’t play each other every year. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic saw to that. There have been off years in the past, and there will be two more after this Saturday’s matchup at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.
Timing. The game is usually at the beginning of the season, whereas typically rivalry games occur at the end of a season.
But Utes and Cougars fans alike treat the rivalry like Rose with Jack in “Titanic”: They never let go. And there’s a good reason to get hyped for the 2021 installment.
Utah has a chance to win its 10th straight game against BYU. In the history of the rivalry, which has now spanned more than 100 years, neither team has beaten the other 10 straight times.
The Utes currently have a nine-game winning streak over the Cougars that dates back to Nov. 27, 2010. They have one other nine-game streak, which went from Nov. 2, 1929, to Oct. 2, 1937.
BYU, meanwhile, has one nine-game winning streak in the rivalry. That happened between Nov. 17, 1979, and Nov. 21, 1987.
But as storied as this rivalry is, Whittingham just wants to treat Saturday’s game like any other.
“Nothing lasts forever,” Whittingham said Monday. “But we’re just approaching it like we do every year and pretty much every game. The preparation will be the key. It’s not the emotional part of it or how many wins in a row or any of that stuff.”
The Utes will face a Cougars team that already has a win over Arizona under its belt. Quarterback Jarren Hall made his presence felt as he finished with 198 passing yards (18 of 28) and two touchdown passes, as well as 36 rushing yards.
“He’s a guy that has got good speed and his mobility is really good,” Whittingham said of Hall. “I thought he did a nice job managing the game for them Saturday.”
The Utes won their opener as well, a 40-17 victory over Weber State, but the team acknowledged that there was plenty of room for improvement based off that performance. For instance, Whittingham estimated that the receivers and tight ends combined for five dropped passes against the Wildcats.
“Some of them would’ve been tough catches, but some were plays we have to make 10 out of 10 times,” Whittingham said. “They’re drive killers. Those drops cost you touchdowns and/or the ability to keep the drive going. So it’s something that we have to correct.”
Utes offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Andy Ludwig kept things simple when giving his thoughts on what his side of the ball needed to do to beat BYU.
“We have to protect the football and protect the quarterback,” Ludwig said. “We do those two things, we’re going to be in good shape.”
From the standpoint of the players, Utah having all its I’s dotted and T’s crossed is what’s most important heading into Saturday.
“Our main focus is being as prepared as possible for the game,” starting quarterback Charlie Brewer said. “There are a lot of things that go into it with film, practice. I think for us, just being as prepared as possible will give us the best chance to [win].”
But backup quarterback Cam Rising said the rivalry — and the opportunity to get that elusive 10th straight win — matters to the players.
“We care a lot,” Rising said. “This is a big game for us. We’re looking forward to going down there and playing there. This will be my first time seeing it live and in person, so I’m looking forward that. It’s going to be a fun one.”