When the game’s over, I know just what they’ll do
Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
Then the Cougs down in Cougville
Will all cry “Boo Hoo!”
COMMENTARY – At the risk of sounding like the Grinch, I don’t think there will be much rejoicing in Happy Valley this weekend.
If the truth be told, neither Utah nor BYU have much to brag about after their opening games of the season. In many respects, these teams (and their fans) are more alike than they are different. But that has already been the topic of another column.
Personally, I am thrilled that the Holy War has continued. Love it or hate it, this rivalry game indisputably evokes emotion from people on both sides of the fence (even those who otherwise pay little attention to the rest of the football season). That’s what I love about it — the emotion. There are opposing fans within your neighborhood, within your office, within your religious congregation, and sometimes within your own family; Bizarre side bets (religious convictions on gambling aside, we all know this happens) – And hopefully a good-natured dialogue.
While a ping pong rivalry in which either team can win in any given year would be fun, that is not really how this rivalry has played out. It more closely resembles the Chinese dynasties that rule for an era and then are replaced with a new regime. The overall series stands at 59-34-4 in favor of Utah.
The first six games in the 1800’s was the most competitive stretch as the Utes and the Cougars split those games at three apiece.
The schools started playing annually in 1922. Utah won 17 of the next 20 games (including 10 shutouts), with BYU only managing a tie in the other three games. The Cougars claimed victory in 1942, right before the rivalry took a hiatus for World War II.
The rivalry resumed in 1946, and the Utes’ domination continued, winning 21 of the next 26 games (BYU won four and there was another tie). Other than the Cougar hat-trick from 1965 to 1967, it was all Utah.
LaVell Edwards turned the tide in favor of the blue starting in 1972. BYU won 19 of the next 21 games. Edwards ended his career in 2000 after beating the Utes 22 times and losing only 7 (with five of those losses coming in Edwards’ last eight years). I was growing from a young lad to a man during this era. A Utah man with precious little to cheer about in terms of this rivalry.
From 2001 to the present, the Cougars have won four games and the Utes have won 11 (including the last six contests with an average margin of victory in the double digits). Look for Utah to make it seven in a row this Saturday.
Is this an emotional pick? No. As Joe Friday was so fond of saying, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
In the six years since BYU went independent in football, it has a 13-18 record against P5 teams. That record plummets to 3-13 against P5 teams who ended the season with a winning record, with the last such win coming in 2013. In the last three years, the Cougars have a 7-7 record (but, again, not a single victory over a P5 school ending the season with a winning record).
In the six years since Utah joined the Pac-12, it has a 30-29 record against P5 teams. That record dips to 10-22 against P5 teams who ended the season with a winning record. In the last three years, the Utes have a 19-11 record overall and are 8-8 against P5 schools ending the season with a winning record.
In other words, advantage Utah in terms of overall success against P5 schools, advantage Utah in terms of beating P5 schools ending the season with a winning record, and advantage Utah in terms of trending the last three years.
As noted earlier, both the Utes and the Cougars had ugly wins in their season debuts against teams they should’ve beaten handily. Even so, Utah still won 37-16 while BYU won 20-6. The Utes had 499 total yards of offense and gave up 242. The Cougars had 365 total yards of offense and gave up 220.
Even more telling, when BYU faced some true competition against LSU last week, the Cougar offense was shut out, never crossed midfield, and only managed 97 total yards (including a minus-5 yards rushing).
So, both teams are going to have to make adjustments and simply play better this weekend. Coaching is going to play a big part of that. Ute head coach Kyle Whittingham has been at the helm since 2004, posting a career record of 104-50, going an incredible 10-1 in bowl games. Cougar Head Coach Kalani Sitake is entering just his second year. Sitake was given a shot at being the man in charge after learning at the feet of Whittingham for a number of years. Suffice it to say that Sitake is far from being considered Kwai Chang Caine (from the popular 1970’s TV series Kung Fu), or the student who is able to snatch the pebble from his master’s hand. Advantage Utah.
Ironically, Whittingham played linebacker for BYU from 1978 to 1981, and earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the school down south. However, he has been a coach on The Hill since 1988. If you don’t think this rivalry game has special meaning to Whittingham, then you better think again.
Throughout the week, Whittingham will consistently repeat the mantra that this is just another game and insist that the Utes are not going to do anything different to prepare for the Cougars. That may be true, and that may be the right approach. But there is simply no denying the underlying emotions, which sometimes surface in motivational talks to the players.
For example, after the 2013 game against BYU in Provo, Whittingham acknowledged, “At our team meeting on Monday, I asked for a show of hands of anyone in the room that has ever lost to these guys. Not one hand went up and that’s the way we wanted to keep it.”
And let’s not forget Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. As a Ute player, Scalley famously exclaimed, “I hate those ******, I hate them with a passion. Ever since I was born.” I doubt he has lost much of that intensity and passion. I am willing to bet that as a coach, he wants to beat the Cougars just as badly as he did as a player.
Here’s hoping Utah makes it seven in a row with another double-digit win this Saturday in Provo.
Bleeding Red is sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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