Two schools seemingly as different as night and day
Is that really the truth? Be careful what you say
Even to me it sounds just a little bit odd
But the U and the Y are two peas in a pod
COMMENTARY – Long ago, as a 19-year old young man at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, I found my assigned dorm room and walked in. I was immediately greeted by a gregarious young man who introduced himself as Duncan Whitney. I can’t explain it, but there was just something about him that rubbed me the wrong way. I quickly looked down at the paper in my hand and, with great relief, discovered that my assigned companion would be Elder David Bash. Elder Whitney would just be one of our roommates.
Over the next two months, Elder Whitney and I got to know each other better – which was not necessarily a good thing. He had spent a year attending BYU before leaving school to serve as a full-time missionary. I had spent the previous year attending the University of Utah. Upon learning that I was a Ute, Elder Whitney made a comment that I will never forget: “I don’t see how anyone could go anywhere but the Y and seriously expect to be fully-prepared to serve a mission.” Suffice it to say that I exhibited supernatural restraint in order to keep from choking the life out of him on the spot.
Over the next two years, Elder Whitney and I had an opportunity to get to know each other even better. By the time our missionary service ended, we had become close friends. I am both pleased and proud to count Duncan as one of my good friends to this very day. So what changed?
As I got to know Duncan, I realized that he and I were far more alike than we were different. We were both passionate about our beliefs. Neither of us was shy about speaking our mind. Although our actions and comments did not always reflect this, deep inside we were both reasonable, rational human beings who could at least understand and appreciate a contrasting point of view, even if we did not agree with it. Ironically, the traits and quirks of Duncan that drove me the craziest were traits and quirks that I was guilty of myself.
So what does this have to do with football? Please allow me to connect the dots for those of you who have been patient enough to bear with me this far into the column.
BYU has historically been known as Quarterback U, an offensive machine. The Cougars boast a storied line of quarterbacks ranging from Marc Wilson and Gifford Nielson, to Jim McMahon and Steve Young, to Heisman Award winning Ty Detmer, and even current Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian. Surprised? Just because I like to mock BYU doesn’t mean that I don’t know its history.
Even when Utah was not necessarily competitive on the field at times, its offense has typically been fun to watch. The duck offense employed by Jim Fassell was very entertaining. During one memorable road game at Nebraska (in which Utah was never truly in contention), even the Corhnusker faithful cheered the novel and unique offensive plays run by the Utes. Urban Meyer’s turbo-charged spread offense appeared to be able to score at will at times.
If BYU and Utah wore different uniforms today, old timer fans would not even recognize them as the teams they historically cheered for so many years. Both teams have become defensive powerhouses that could be very dangerous if they had any type of an offense that could help them out.
There is no need to look any further than the head coaches in order to understand the evolution of these two teams. Both Kyle Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall are former defensive coordinators and were ferocious defensive players themselves and that is the area in which both teams currently excel.
Both Utah and BYU have very young offensive coordinators, who were prematurely elevated from being the quarterbacks coach, and both of whom used to actually play quarterback for their respective schools. I think Brian Johnson and Brandon Doman will both be fine offensive coordinators down the road, but I believe both promotions were premature.
What both schools desperately need going into next year is better play from the quarterback position. The million-dollar question is whether Johnson or Doman can coach up the current quarterbacks in their system. The follow-up question is what level of talent will either school be able to recruit going forward in light of their current offensive woes and young offensive coordinators (not appreciably older than some of the recruits themselves) with no proven track record.
This past football season is nearly a perfect parallel between the two programs. Admittedly, BYU is 7-5 and going to a bowl, while Utah is 5-7 and sitting home during the holidays. However, each team only had a single win over an opponent who finished the season with a winning record – BYU beat Utah State at home by three points, while Utah topped BYU at home by an identical three-point margin. If they had played each other’s schedule, then Utah would be going bowling and BYU would be sitting home.
The bottom line is that Utah and BYU are more similar than they are different. They truly are brothers. Their feuding back and forth is akin to a classic sibling rivalry. In fact, the rivalry has often been described as big brother vs. little brother, with considerable debate about which school fits which role.
There is no debate in my mind. For the past two years Utah has proven it can still beat BYU while playing with the big boys in the Pac-12.
These programs, some 40 miles apart – one red, one blue; one public, one private; one secular; one religious – they belong together.
Someone once said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Utah and BYU will always be close, one way or another.
Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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