Familiar foes BYU and Utah have close ties throughout roster
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) BYU and Utah may have as much crossover within the two programs as any two major football schools in the country.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake was the Utah defensive coordinator just two seasons ago and was one of the first hires by 12th-year Utes coach Kyle Whittingham.
That dynamic makes it a little different than other rivalries across the nation. It doesn't have the national cache of Michigan-Ohio State or Alabama-Auburn but the animosity in the state is very real. The two meet next on Saturday in Salt Lake City.
''I just want to shut them up, honestly,'' Utah receiver Tim Patrick said. ''I hear about it 24-7 since I got here. I experienced it in the bowl game. Seen videos of the trash talking. I want to be on the winning end, on that side. Be one of the guys that shuts them up.''
Whittingham and three Utah assistants played at BYU while Sitake and three of his assistants were once on the Utah staff. Guy Holliday went from coaching receivers at BYU last season to Utah now.
Brothers Kai Nacua (BYU) and Samson Nacua (Utah) will be on opposite sidelines and BYU defensive end Harvey Langi began his collegiate career at Utah.
As heated as the rivalry can get, both sides have downplayed how much the familiarity will actually factor in Saturday. Though Whittingham acknowledged Holiday has provided some insight on individual players.
''With anything with social media, that kind of fuels the fire a lot of times for people,'' BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said. ''It's definitely more intense, probably, then when I was here because you didn't hear that part of it and see some of those things. That adds to it a little bit. But with Kalani having been there a long time and the fans loving him when he coached at Utah, there's maybe not the bitterness that has been there in the past.''
Sitake grew up a BYU fan and played for the Cougars before being joining the Utah staff for a decade. He and Whittingham golfed together multiple times during the summer and remain close friends.
Sitake's presence may have an impact on the vitriol, but it was just December when former Utah defensive tackle Seni Fauonuku called BYU ''a dirty team'' before the two played in the Las Vegas Bowl - a 35-28 Utah win.
BYU linebacker Fred Warner remembers.
''Just the way they came at us during the bowl game and some of the activities, just didn't feel right,'' Warner said.
It was just January when Utah men's basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak canceled the series between the two teams due to a ''venomous and toxic environment.'' Utah lawmakers then ordered an audit of the University of Utah sports department after the game was canceled. The athletic directors decided to renew the series in 2017-18.
Utah defensive end Kylie Fitts thinks it's the nastiest rivalry in the country.
''You guys don't hear or see what goes on on the field and under the piles,'' Fitts said. ''It's nasty, but there's definitely respect for both teams. ... It's electric. You can feel it in the air. You can feel it in practice. You can feel it in the weight room. For me personally, I feel it's as heated as it's ever been.''
The upperclassmen on the Utah defense were recruited by Sitake and Fitts said the BYU coach is basically the reason he's at Utah.
BYU defensive end Corbin Kaufusi has been on both sides since his dad Steve flipped from the Utah staff to the BYU staff in 2002.
''I remember my older brother and my little brother, we used to always paint our faces black with the red,'' Kaufusi said. ''It's kind of funny to be on the other side of it now. I remember when I was younger, it did seem like it got a little snippy and there were times where it's a little dirtier than it needs to be.''