By Kevin Graham
Follow on Twitter @KevinGrahamKFAN
Here are my three keys for victory for both the BYU Cougars and the Utah Utes plus my prediction for the big rivalry game Saturday night.
1. Win the turnover battle. In the three wins over Utah under Bronco Mendenhall the Cougars turned it over just two times. In the four losses they lost the ball a total of 18 times (per Deseret News). That means quarterback Riley Nelson needs to dial it back a bit. Obviously that’s not in his nature but I’m sure he’ll be reminded of the importance of that from student assistant Max Hall who was responsible for six turnovers in the 2008 48-24 loss at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
2. Shut down Utah’s running game. That means controlling a less than 100 per cent John White and forcing Ute quarterback Jon Hays to win the game. With the Ute offensive line still a “work in progress” according to Kyle Whittingham there is no reason that this shouldn’t happen.
3. Target the tight ends. Expecting that Utah will focus in on taking Nelson’s favorite target Cody Hoffman away other options will have to step up in the pass game. Considering Utes safety Eric Rowe is most likely out with a hamstring injury combined with Quade Chappuis starting for the suspended Brian Blechen, BYU should attack that perceived weakness with their tight ends. That means someone like Kaneakua Friel could have a big game. Maybe he could even become a part of rivalry lore with the likes of Johnny Harline and Andrew George?
1. Run the football. It’s been said over and over but it’s worthwhile–when White runs for 100+ yards Utah is 9-0. When he doesn’t the Utes are 0-6. The challenge is that no matter what he says White won’t be 100 per cent. Combine that with the line issues and that BYU is ranked 11th in the nation in stopping the run it may be difficult to have success.
2. Make a play. Hays is not a great quarterback by any means but he does have a better arm than Wynn. Therefore the wide receivers should get some opportunities to make a play. That means someone such as DeVonte Christopher, Dres Anderson, Kenneth Scott, Luke Matthews etc. need to live up to their “playmaker” moniker. Get behind the defense or better yet take a short slant, break some tackles and take it to the house. With the possibility of the run game struggling this is something that needs to happen to win.
3. Contain Riley Nelson. The “Wild Cougar” does most of his damage when he’s on the move. He’s not comfortable when he’s contained to the pocket. He has happy feet. If the Ute defense can confine him to between the hashes and apply regular pressure Nelson will struggle.
Bonus Key for both teams–Special Teams. Several of these rivalry games have had momentum changing or game deciding moments on special teams. Whoever makes a play there or doesn’t make a mistake could be the team that comes out on top.
Prediction: BYU 13 Utah 10
Everything points to the Cougars winning this game. Utah has a back-up quarterback, their star running back appears to be banged up, the OLine is in shambles and the defense has young linebackers and two backup safeties playing. BYU is ranked, favored, the defense is strong, they have a senior QB in Nelson and weapons around him. With all that said Utah still has talent and you know Whittingham will have them ready and motivated after the devastating Utah State loss. But the Cougars have even more motivation in my opinion–avenging last year’s loss, the Utes ending the rivalry for two years and the fact they need a win to continue their quest to stay unbeaten and bust the BCS. BYU should win this game. They better win this game because of the limited opportunities to beat the Utes going forward. Now they just need to do it.