Let Slip the Cougs of War

The 2004 edition of the BYU-Utah Holy War is upon us and TBS gets a read on the game from Coach Gary Crowton and some of his players. The Cougars sound confident going into a critical game for both teams.

BYU goes into this Saturday's match-up against arch-rival Utah as an overwhelming underdog for the first time in a long time. Utah is favored by more than 21 points a point which is a point not lost on the team and their head Coach Gary Crowton.

"Utah is a very good team," noted Crowton. "They're right up there with USC as one of the best teams we'll face all season long. They're obviously going to be a great challenge and we have to be prepared to meet that challenge."

This is one week when the players need no spark to ignite the fires of competition. "It's Utah and they're our rival", explained Crowton. "So the team getting up for this game shouldn't be a problem at all."

"Oh, we'll be up for this game for sure," Said tight end Daniel Coats. "No question about that. I have friends on their [Utah's] team and we've been talking a bit as of late. It's all in good fun, but we want to beat them badly and I'm sure it's the same with them."

Senior defensive back Jon Burbidge added: "I've been able to play against Utah being a senior, so I'm aware of how big this game is. It's especially big for the fans, but Utah is a team that we always want to beat and the intensity is noticeably higher in this game than it is for other games during the season. It‘s a lot more physical and I think there seems to be a lot more holding against Utah than against other teams. It just seems like you‘ve been in a car wreck after playing against Utah and I like that."

Playing in Rice-Eccles stadium with tens of thousands of screaming fans can be daunting, but Coats noted: "They're fans that are just saying stuff. They generally don't know what they're talking about anyway, so you just have to tune them out. It's not tough for me to do that. I've played there all through high school and I've always had good games there, so I'm excited."

What adds more than a little spice to this weekend's match-up is the fact that this is a game that could potentially vault Utah to a BCS bowl bid or ruin their BCS chances altogether.

But this isn't something that the team is concentrating on according to Crowton. "You can't approach it like that," said the coach. "You just have to focus on them and what we need to do in order to have a chance to win the game. Everything will take care of itself, but all we can do is everything possible just to win the game you're playing that week."

Crowton is well aware of how good Utah is. He is impressed with their performance as a team thus far: "They're just very, very good offensively and defensively as well. They tend to get up on teams early and just bury them early. We can't allow them to do that. We have to come out strong because once they start rolling then they're hard to stop."

Chief among the points of emphasis to stop Utah's prolific offense is trying to minimize the effectiveness of quarterback and Heisman candidate Alex Smith. "Alex Smith is a very good quarterback," said Crowton. "He just knows the system so well. It's a relatively simple system with not a lot of plays, but Alex Smith has taken full advantage of the system and just seems to know what to do in every situation. Coach Meyer has obviously done an outstanding job with Alex Smith and with their offensive system as a whole."

Along with Alex Smith, BYU's defense will be confronted with a stellar wide receiving corps which has caused many a secondary problems during the season.

"They just have a system that compliments they're wide receiver's abilities," said cornerback Micah Alba. "We've seen wide receivers as good as what they have, but how they work in their system is what makes them so good."

Said Burbidge: "When you go against most teams you see that they have one guy that can kill you and one guy that you have to shut down, but they don't have two or three guys who are a real threat, but I think Utah does. They have Steve Savoy, Travis LeTandresse, Madson and Paris Warren. Warren is as good as Savoy, so shutting them down is going to be a huge challenge. That's the one thing that makes them so difficult to go against in that they have more than one guy who you have to watch out for."

On the offensive side, Crowton notes that they will be going against a very good defensive squad led by long time defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham. "They're always the same defensively it seems and a lot of that credit goes to coach Whittingham," said Crowton. "They're just very tough again defensively as they always are."

Running Back Curtis Brown feels ready to go and thinks that BYU can make yards against Utah's front seven. "They're real strong up front, but we feel that they maybe aren't that quick," the 705 yard rusher pointed out. "I feel confident that we can run it effectively against them. They're a lot different than New Mexico in that they're bigger, but not as quick to feel the gaps as New Mexico was. I feel that we can run on them and have a productive day running the football."

John Beck said: "We feel very prepared going into this game. The coaches have prepared us very well and we've had a very good week of practice. Todd Watkins is practicing again and that's great for his confidence and our confidence because he's a guy who we really need to play well in order to be successful.

"We can't worry about how good Utah is or about all the outside stuff that's going on around and about the game. We just need to focus on what we need to do as an offensive unit and if we do that, then I know we'll be successful. We're all aware of how good Utah is, but you know what? We're pretty good too and if we can just focus and execute the game-plan that the coaches have given us, then we can be successful."

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