Let’s get straight to it and say what is meant here.
BYU is in trouble.
The Cougars face Utah on Saturday night and despite having the advantage of playing at home, their consecutive loss streak to the Utes is about to grow to 10.
That’s not meant as some profound or provocative pronunciation. It’s a guess, only a guess. That’s what we — all of us — do around here.
But it’s based on preliminary evidence, based on not only what was seen in each team’s opener, but on evidence that substantiated what was presumed before the season began.
Utah could be a great team.
BYU could be good.
There’s no shame in being good, it’s just not as good as great.
Capiche? Verstehen Sie? Comprendre?
It’s the same in any language.
Buono e meglio che ottomo. Gut ist besser als toll. Bien vaut mieux que super.
That’s not a guarantee. There are no guarantees, unless current-day Alabama is playing.
Good can beat great — if the former is fortunate and the latter is fatheaded.
All of it is transitory, of course. If the latter happens, greatness ducks on down a back alley.
None of that should be counted on, however, in this rivalry game.
There are landmines all around taking and making too much out of season openers, especially in college football, where there are no preseason games, no real warmups, no do-overs. Mistakes are made, connections are lost, standards are not yet grooved.
Truth. The Utes were imperfect, the Cougars flawed.
Sometimes teams hold back what they actually can do in their first game — if a bigger one is on the horizon. It sure looked like BYU had the anchor out on offense against Arizona, wanting a win, but not wanting to give away too much info. Just the fact that the Cougars held out two of their best receivers — Puka and Samson Nacua — when they could have played illustrates the point.
Still, amid all the cover-up and clutter, a single thing that can be recognized as all-fired, although its successful application can slide around a bit, is … talent.
Utah has more of it.
It’s clear that BYU went up against a Pac-12 opponent in Arizona at a neutral site, although the seats were filled with blue in Vegas, and the Utes played comfortably at home against the Big Sky’s Weber State. But it’s possible that those varying opponents were not that divergent in the challenge they posed. One version of the Wildcats, while existing at the upper reaches of the FCS level, isn’t that far removed from the other, idling near the bottom of FBS football.
Utah compiled twice as many first downs as Weber, 28-14.
BYU got nine fewer than Arizona.
Utah gained 450 yards against Weber’s 270.
BYU gained 368 yards, Arizona 426.
Utah ran 60 plays, Weber 63.
BYU ran 63, Arizona 83.
Utah’s defense yielded 57 rushing yards to Weber.
BYU’s defense gave up 81 rushing yards.
Utah allowed 213 passing yards.
BYU permitted 345.
Utah quarterback Charlie Brewer threw for 233 yards.
BYU QB Jaren Hall threw for 198.
Utah’s primary ball carrier, Tavion Thomas, gained 107 yards.
BYU’s Tyler Allgeier totaled 94.
Those are just stats and numbers are renowned liars, concealing sometimes as much as they reveal.
But here’s what was not hidden, rather was plain for anyone with eyes to see: The Utes have more team speed on offense and defense than the Cougars. That mismatch goes both ways, but is more apparent when Utah is on attack and BYU is defending. The Cougars not only missed a thousand tackles against Arizona, they were out of position to make those stops because they simply could not keep up.
That will be their demise on Saturday night.
No team will suddenly get faster.
Hall can and will develop into a fine quarterback. He had some stellar moments against UofA, including that 67-yard bomb that dropped like manna from heaven into the arms of Neil Pau’u, who subsequently took it to the house. What a suh-weet play by thrower and receiver. Hall had traffic converging in front of him on that pass and completed it deftly, anyway.
Brewer is a savvy, efficient quarterback who will be difficult for the back end of BYU’s defense to make less savvy, less efficient. If BYU commits many resources to pressure the Ute quarterback, which it will be forced to do, that will leave the Cougars susceptible elsewhere.
And if BYU drops eight into coverage, as they often did the other night, Utah’s run game will churn for big gains. The Utes have Thomas, a fresh runner who uses strength and speed, and who is bound, if he stays healthy, to honor with every step, every juke, every punishing carry, the lost-but-not-forgotten Ty Jordan. Thomas averaged 8.9 yards on Thursday night, getting a mere 12 carries. That number will climb against BYU.
The Cougars’ Allgeier is exactly as we remember him from last season, a back who runs with bad intentions, utilizing the same attributes as Thomas.
But Utah has that slab of humanity on its defensive front that makes it problematic for any opponent to consistently move the ball on the ground. Almost all of them turn, then, to the pass because there is no other option, other than punting.
That will put heavy responsibility on Hall to make the right read, to deliver the ball to the right place at the right time for the right reason. If he feels pressure in the pocket, which he will, he has the ability to get out and scamper for yardage. But how often will the Cougars want their QB1 to rely on that, given the attendant shots he’ll take in the effort.
That’s not so much a question as it is a statement.
If Hall looks to use his talented tight ends as either primary targets or as a safety net, something he did not do much of against Arizona, surprisingly, he might try it against the Utes. On the other hand, Brewer was more proficient with his talented tight ends, so that comparative slightly favors Utah.
Even with the emotion factor that typically comes into play in a rivalry game, and make no mistake, the Cougars will be as emotional as a rival can get, staring straight into the teeth of that record 10th-straight loss against Utah, they have the aforementioned disadvantage of being good, but not quite as good as the other guys.
Maybe I’ve given the Utes too much credit, maybe they aren’t kings in the making. They’ll have to prove that as the season moves forward, including on Saturday night. But they have foundational elements to be something stellar.
BYU’s base is built on some skill, particularly on offense, but more on grit and toughness and determination.
All good things.
But when picking a winner here, I’ll take superior talent. I’ll take great, even could be great.
Great is better than good — at least that’s the way to bet.
Utah, by two touchdowns.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.