The Holy War
Saturday night in Provo is when it all comes down – or does it? This year things seem a little bit different. The same two teams will be playing in what Utah Utes Coach Kyle Whittingham called, “The single biggest sporting event in the state of Utah.” But the timing is off and the meaning is different.
The game between the two Utah football powerhouses is traditionally played in November as the last regular season game of the year, but this year it will be played in September as the third game of the season.
There are almost always implications for final conference standings, and there is frequently a conference title on the line; but not this year. For the first time ever, BYU and Utah will be playing each other in football without being members of the same conference. The University of Utah is a member of the PAC-12 and BYU’s football team is now independent of conference affiliation.
However, the game is still a BIG DEAL here in the state of Utah.
Since the hiring of Whittingham at the University of Utah and Bronco Mendenhall at BYU, the two teams have played each other six times with each team winning three of them. Five of the six games have been decided by a touchdown or less than seven points, two of them went into overtime and last year, the game was decided on the last play of the game as Utah was up by one. BYU attempted a 42-yard field, but it was blocked by Brandon Burton to preserve the victory for Utah. The one game that was decided by more than seven points came in 2008, during the Mendenhall versus Whittingham era – the year that Utah defeated Alabama in the BCS Sugar Bowl.
This year, the game looks to be another close, exciting one. Both teams won their opening game and both teams lost last week. Both teams look strong on defense and both teams are struggling on offense. Both teams have new offensive coordinators and both teams feel that their offense has the potential to make significant improvements.
Offensively the two teams are different in their current strengths. Through the first two games Utah has done well with their running game, but they have struggled with their passing game. Utah running back John White IV has run the ball for 206 yards through the first two games, but their offense is undergoing a change in scheme wherein they were running a spread offense and with the hire of Norm Chow they are now running a pro-style offense.
Also of note, Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn had surgery on the shoulder of his throwing arm after injuring it during the game against BYU last year, but Wynn has said multiple times that his shoulder is now 100 percent and he showed significant improvement last Saturday against USC.
BYU has shown promise with their passing game, especially with the accuracy of quarterback Jake Heaps. On the other hand, they have not been able to establish the run against either of their opponents this year.
Last week against Texas, BYU only had 43 yards rushing. During his press conference this week, Mendenhall said, “The biggest thing that will be helpful to Jake [Heaps] and our offense is to come out swinging and run the ball more effectively … He’s carrying too much of the load.”
The game will be broadcast live on ESPN 2 with kickoff scheduled for 7:15 pm. The game will also be rebroadcast at 11 p.m. on BYUtv. Surprisingly the game has not yet sold out.
Around the Country
There are two games featuring a ranked team on both sides of the field. The first one played out Thursday night as No. 25 Mississippi State hosted No. 3 LSU. The game was a defensive battle most of the way through. LSU led by three at the end of the third quarter 9-6, but the Tigers took over in the 4th quarter, scoring 10 points to win the game 19-6.
Saturday night boasts a game that many people believe to have National Championship implications as No. 1 Oklahoma goes to Tallahassee, Florida to face No. 5 Florida State. This will be the first difficult game of the season for both teams, yet both teams feel they have a schedule advantage.
Oklahoma did not play last week so they had two weeks to prepare for the Seminoles. After losing last year’s starting quarterback Christian Ponder to the NFL, Florida State benefited from having a second game to work out all the issues with their offense. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on ABC.
Dixie State will host Simon Fraser University, a Division II team from Burnaby, Canada in their first conference game of the season.
Simon Fraser University opened conference play last week with a 35-28 loss to Western Oregon. The Red Storm has the luxury of starting off conference play at home as they could use a jump-start to their season. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.
It’s homecoming week in Cedar City and the Thunderbirds will host the Texas-San Antonio Road Runners. The Thunderbirds are coming off an exciting win over a ranked Sacramento State last Saturday. http://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2011/09/11/sorensen-puts-on-a-show-as-the-t-birds-defeat-no-12-sacramento-state/
The Road Runners also have a 1-1 record as they lost by three points last week to McMurry 21-24. Homecoming festivities include a concert and fireworks Friday night starting at 7:30 p.m. and a parade Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m., and culminate with the football game, which starts at 6 p.m.
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