Gameday is here, and it’s time for me to make my prediction. Utah in a close one, by 3 points.
Not that I like Utah, because I don’t. Well, not when they’re playing the Cougars, anyway. I attended BYU in my youth, back when it was drawing a large share of it’s student body from Utah County kids. My wife, who’s from California, graduated from the Y and worked at the Missionary Training Center in the Health Clinic as an employee of BYU and retired with 12 years of service. And she’s as loyal a BYU football fan as there is on the female side of the aisle.
My son attends the University of Utah as a graphic arts student, so naturally he and his wife are Ute fans. But he roots for the Cougars when they’re playing anybody but the U.
A lot of people, particularly in the media, have started calling this rivalry "the Holy War", but it has nothing to do with religion. Or maybe it does, but it has less to do with Mormons vs. non-Mormons than it does with the fact that the schools are in such close proximity and have historically drawn from virtually the same population. Many LDS Church General Authorities hold degrees from the University of Utah. If I remember correctly, BYU’s current president graduated from the U. The Utes’ head football coach, Kyle Whittingham, played football for BYU. His dad Fred was a coach at BYU.
The two schools have very similar roots. I remember when I attended BYU I had a 3-ring binder that had an embossed BYU logo on the front, consisting of the seal of the University. The central figure in the seal was an old-fashioned beehive, complete with a few bees buzzing around it. Not many years later I saw a 3-ring binder with a University of Utah logo on the front. It was the seal of the University of Utah and had an old-fashioned beehive with bees buzzing around it. It was identical to my BYU binder, except for the fact that it said University of Utah instead of Brigham Young University.
So back to the game at hand.
First let me talk about BYU’s home field advantage. There is none. The Utes have proven that in recent years. When the Utes are in Provo, they’re as likely to win the game as the Cougars. I don’t think today is going to be any different.
BYU is at a disadvantage on offense because Max Hall is a sophomore and Brian Johnson is a senior. Johnson was hurt early in the season, but he’s back, and he’s proven he’s capable of playing at a high level. Hall, on the other hand, was dinged in their game last week against Wyoming, and I suspect that right throwing shoulder is not going to be 100%. If Hall can’t prove that he can hit Austin Collie going deep down the sideline or Dennis Pitta at medium range over the middle, I don’t think BYU’s running game alone is going to be able to get the job done against the Utes.
BYU’s defense is banged up, and they’re missing Quin Gooch, who’s out for the season with a knee injury. He’s been like a coach on the field, recognizing offensive formations and making defensive calls before the snap. The Utes are in good shape offensively, hitting on all cylinders. The Cougars are really going to miss Quin Gooch.
Where the Utes really have the edge, though, is on special teams. BYU has been shaky all year in their kicking game, and they’re only just now getting even close to mid-season form. They’ve kicked fewer field goals than any other team in Division I football. True, they’ve attempted fewer field goals, but there’s probably good reason for that. And they’ve had some kicks blocked, and they haven’t got it fixed, as evidenced by the fact that they had two kicks blocked just last week. Meanwhile, the Utes have been blocking kicks and setting up scores all year, and I think that’s going to play a role in today’s game. Add the fact that they have a solid kicker/punter and it’s clearly advantage Utah.
I think it’ll be a close game. There will probably be several momentum shifts, but I don’t think anyone’s going to break it open. In a close game, I think Utah’s advantages, especially in the kicking game, give them the edge.
If I’m wrong, though, I can certainly live with a Cougar victory.