A Duck Fan’s POV: The Holy War: Utah (Pac 12) versus BYU (independent)


by ChuckSix

This will be an emotional game for both teams. Utah, who has to play a challenging USC team in Los Angeles the week before facing BYU on the road, will have their work cut out for them. However BYU doesn’t have it any easier, opening with Ole Miss, at Texas, host Utah, and then back home squaring off with UCF. One of the advantages to being an Independent is that you can schedule who you want and create match ups that get you on TV. BYU has put a lot of pressure on themselves this season and it will be interesting to see if the cougars will come out on top. Wins will come against teams like New Mexico State, Idaho State, and Idaho but Oregon State and Hawaii will be tough. I see at least five L’s on paper for the Cougars (Texas, UCF, Oregon State, TCU, and Hawaii).

Looking at both teams on paper:

2010 Team Stats

Average (National Ranking)                           BYU                           Utah

Passing Yards                                                 198.4 (74)                    236.1 (47)

Rushing Yards                                                168.1 (42)                    152.9 (62)

Points                                                               26.2 (70)                      33.1 (23)

Points Against                                                 21.6 (32)                      20.3 (24)

The “Holy War” came down to a blocked field goal attempt late in the ball game that gave the Utah Utes a victory, can they repeat in 2011? 2010’s game was played on November 27th, the final game of the regular season. 2011’s schedule has the game much earlier, Saturday September 17th. Hopefully there won’t be any injuries early on for either school, but a quicker matchup means that whoever matures fastest has the upper hand in this contest.

Previewing this game has been a lot of fun. A non conference early rivalry game with a storied tradition it doesn’t get much better than this! Both of our new comrades in the Pac 12 face cross-town rival schools in September (Colorado vs. Colorado State played on the same day Sep. 17).

Utah and BYU are both brining back their starting QB’s from 2010. The Cougars have Jake Heaps (15 TD 9 INT 2316 yards) who started as a true freshman last season. The Utes have number 3 Jordan Wynn (17 TD 10 INT 2334 yards) under center. Utah loses a lot of fire power from their 2010 offense, Running backs Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata. Head Coach Kyle Wittingham hired a new offensive coordinator in Norm Chow this off season who has had previous stints at BYU, NC State, USC, Tennessee Titans, and UCLA. The Utes are a bit of a homecoming for Chow. Born in Hawaii Chow went to Utah and played for the Utes in the mid 1960’s.

Chow, not known for the spread offense that put Utah on the national radar under Urban Meyer in 2004 will bring in more TE’s and look to run in order to set up the pass (what former offensive lineman wouldn’t). However he has WR DeVonte Christopher (6’1 200 lbs) returning who grabbed 39 balls for 660 yards, and 6 touchdowns. The Utes offense also returns three key offensive linemen along with a solid recruit (rated 31st overall running back in the nation espn.com) Harvey Langi 6’1 215 lbs. that can step in and take over as the main running back in Chow’s offense.

Utah is also hurt in the special teams department as the dangerous return man Shaky Smithson graduated and will not be wearing the red #1 this fall. Special teams play can make or break a football game just ask the Chicago Bears who seemed to rely on Devin Hester a few years ago for some consistent offense.

Utah will be okay on defense and should be strong in the linebacker department. Last season they held opponents to under 21 total points giving their potent offense an opportunity to score and manage the game from the right side of the football (time of possession).

Last year’s game featured a questionable call. BYU’s Brian Bradley intercepted a pass and while going to the ground Utah’s Kendrick Moeai (TE #81) ripped the ball out of Bradley’s hand. However Brian Bradley’s left knee touched the carpet before the ball came lose. In the stadium this is a tough call for the average fan. Replays can be hard to see (if it is even shown) and this situation reminded me of being at the Oklahoma/Oregon game at Autzen where the Ducks orchestrated an incredible comeback aided by a bad call on a review that help the mighty O beat the Sooners. I personally had no idea about the controversy until the next day watching ESPN. This type of play only adds fuel to an already hot fire. One play doesn’t win or lose a football game, but it is easy as fans to get caught up in a singular bad call especially on the road. Did BYU get “homered?” Highly unlikely but Utah did benefit and go on to win a close ball game so the bitter pain is still fresh in the minds of the Cougar faithful. I’ve been there as a coach and a player, you win some close calls and you lose just as many.

I went back and reviewed some BYU games from 2010. I really like the Cougar’s offensive line. Mark Weber the Cougars offensive line coach must be a good one. I don’t know him personally but I am a fan of his work. This is a big fundamentally sound unit. I wasn’t surprised by the miscommunication between the QB and WR’s last season. A true freshmen QB at the division I level is a tough task. Remember, this is big time football and WR’s don’t usually have predetermined routes. I might call a hitch and a seam to the X and H on the left but if the defense shows cover 2 (press corner with two safeties) that hitch has to be changed to a go route and the seam can stay.  Or, just the opposite, depending on the offense against a cover 4 or nickel, a go route may need to be converted to a stop or hitch route. This takes a great deal of understanding and communication between the QB and the WR. I talked with Tony Dungy this off season at a coaching conference and he broke down how the Colt’s ran their no huddle offense. It’s a surprisingly simple play calling scheme based off of hand signals. Fingers held up represent a route off of the passing tree (this is a system that numbers routes instead of naming them). However having Peyton Manning is a big difference than an 18 year old kid stepping into a new level of football. This year should be a better year for BYU’s passing game. Heaps is a special player. He will become a deadly QB in a year or two but 2011? Who knows…

I believe that Bronco Mendenhall’s Cougars are still putting the pieces together. Some things that I look for when scouting an opposing defense is overall team speed, tackling fundamentals, and attitude. If I was Utah I would widen my sets stretching BYU’s defense and get to the outside. Think about the Nevada game early in the 2010 season outside of a poor decision by Colin Kaepernick misreading a zone blitz throwing a ball right to a BYU defensive end they pretty much had their way all day. The vertical package could also expose the Cougars line backing core in coverage. The Cougars really looked bad a few times last season and the Utah State game was a bad one. Lacking aggression and hats to the ball really told me a lot about this squad. I hope BYU fans don’t have to see another game like that this year. This is a school on the rise and in 2-3 years will be a force in college football but that is down the road.

On paper I will run with the Utes all day but hey this is the “Holy War” so throw all of that out the window. Duck fans are enjoying some success now but years ago a single win against OSU was a successful season. Before writing this I didn’t know a lot about the history of this rivalry. There is bad blood between these two schools. Hate is a strong word and I have found many quotes between former players on both sides…”I really hate these guys.”

Utah, and to a lesser extent WSU, are my dark horses in the PAC-12 this season. Look for some surprises this year but one for me will not be a Utah loss to BYU.