Utah-BYU rivalry still heated, even in September

Last year’s matchup started with pre-game taunting and was

decided by a last-second blocked field goal.

Not much figures to change this year in the BYU-Utah rivalry,

even if Saturday night’s showdown will mark the first time in 113

years the teams will play as non-conference opponents.

BYU has gone the independent route and Utah is a member of the

Pac-12. At least through 2012, they’ll settle bragging rights on

the field, even if no conference title is on the line.

”It’s still as big as ever,” Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn said

of the rivalry, which has served as the regular-season finale in 28

of the last 32 years.

That’s not to say it doesn’t feel strange talking about the game

in mid-September, before the leaves have changed.

”We do feel like it’s a little weird this game coming so early,

but whenever it is, we’ll be excited to play,” said BYU running

back Bryan Kariya, whose brother-in-law is Utah linebacker Chaz

Walker.

At least Kariya knows that name.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall had to ask for a little leeway when

questioned about Utah’s run game Monday.

”I need (jersey) numbers,” Mendenhall said, an indication he

hasn’t had the usual time to familiarize himself with the Utes.

When he does he’ll see a team that in many ways resembles his

own.

Both teams are 1-1 and coming off tough road losses, with new

coordinators trying to get their respective offenses moving.

The Utes had a chance to tie Saturday’s inaugural Pac-12 game

against USC only to see a last-second field goal attempt blocked

and returned for a touchdown.

BYU blew a 13-3 halftime lead and fell 17-16 to Texas.

Having played two close games figures to work in BYU’s favor, as

the Cougars know they can come back as they did in rallying from a

13-0 deficit to beat Ole Miss, 14-13, in the opener.

But having a full slate of Pac-12 games after this week and a

subsequent bye is motivation for the Utes.

”I think this whole schedule helps you get over a win or loss

quickly,” Wynn said. ”Every week we play someone who’s good and

you gotta come out ready.”

Whichever offense gets it together quicker may go a long way

toward settling the rivalry, which has been decided by a touchdown

or less in five of the last six games.

This season, both offenses have struggled. Wynn managed only 101

yards passing in the opener but showed some improvement against

USC, and has not thrown an interception.

BYU quarterback Jake Heaps has two touchdowns but also three

interceptions.

Neither team had much of a run game last week.

Unlike last season when Mendenhall took control of BYU’s defense

after a rough start, he said Brandon Doman has the offensive

reins.

”I don’t know enough offensive football, I’m so involved in

running the defense and I hired a staff I trust,” Mendenhall

said.

He credited opposing defenses as much for his team’s offensive

woes.

While players aren’t second-guessing BYU’s conservative game

plan, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been frustrating.

”Going three-and-out and kicking a bunch of field goals, that’s

frustrating,” said Kariya, who has only 35 yards rushing in two

games. ”We definitely want to score touchdowns. But we need to get

our groove as an offense. We haven’t hit that yet. I expect we will

hit that in the next game or two. It took us a while last year to

get going, but I think we’re on the right track.”

Walker doesn’t want to see that happen Saturday night in Provo

against a Utes defense that has played fairly solid.

And certainly not against someone in the family.

”We definitely don’t want to be the team they have a great game

against,” Walker said.

More uncertain is whether the rivalry will continue, what with

all the conference re-alignment talk.

”I’m not sure if it will,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

”A rivalry that’s been around this long and so intense and so

competitive, you’d like to see it continue but will it is anybody’s

guess.”