Grasping at Straws

When fans of rival schools banter over which team is better, they look for any point of reference to buttress their claims of superiority. A convenient measuring stick is performance against a common opponent. Come Saturday evening, bitter rivals BYU and Utah will have played three of the same teams, and their fans will have plenty of new fodder for debate.

Utah is currently 3-2 with wins over Northern Arizona, Utah State and San Diego State. BYU is also currently 3-2 with wins over Tulsa, Utah State and TCU. When the Utes shut out Utah State, some of the Cougar defenders took notice and wanted to make a statement of their own.

"Sure we want to keep Utah State out of the end zone," said outside linebacker Kelly Poppinga prior to the Utah State game. "It is something on our minds but we want to keep every team from scoring on us, not just because Utah did it.

"Yeah going back to that Utah State game where Utah beat them 48-0, so automatically our first though is, ‘Oh, we're playing Utah State next week.' My first thought is we got to beat them 48-0, and it's the same way with any team. If Wyoming beats Colorado State by 14, we gotta beat them by 14. That's usually the initial thought."

Against Utah State, Utah gained 19 first downs to BYU's 23, rushed for 161 yards to BYU's 136, and passed for 240 yards to BYU's. Utah beat the Aggies 48-0 in Logan, while BYU prevailed in Provo by a 38-0 mark.

This week, BYU and Utah face common opponents once again. BYU plays San Diego State this Saturday at Lavell Edwards Stadium, and the Utes host TCU at Rice Eccles. Two weeks ago, Utah creamed SDSU 3-7, and last week BYU took it to TCU 31-17.

"We know how we beat TCU and everybody knows how Utah beat San Diego State and stuff like that," said Matangi Tonga. "Everyone is trying to compare us to them by how we played against Utah State. Utah beat them 48-0 and we beat them 38-0 and everyone is saying they're better than us because they beat Utah State by more points. The thing people don't understand is each week is different and each team comes out to play each game differently. It doesn't really mean anything and you can't really make comparisons."

Against SDSU the Utes' offense actually faired better in some categories than they did against the Aggie defense. They gained four more first downs (23 total), rushed for 31 more yards (192 total), but didn't rack up as many points (24) or passing yardage (167 yards ).

Outside linebacker Bryan Kehl will be watching to see how the Utes fare against TCU. Others will be watching to see how BYU performs against the Aztecs.

"I have heard from a lot of people about how badly San Diego beat us last year," Kehl said. "The anger within me says they're not going to get away with that."

Unlike those die-hard football fans always debating which Holy War combatant has the comparative advantage, some members of BYU's football cannot fathom using the Utes as an evaluative standard.

"I don't even think about that school and what they're doing," said offensive linemen Dallas Reynolds. "This program is all I've known and this is all I focus on until we actually face Utah. We just stay focused on what we're doing, and I haven't really heard anything about those things in the locker room."

"Our coaches have done a very good job at keeping us focused towards San Diego State and not worried about what TCU, Utah or Air Force is doing," Tonga said. "We're looking at each game one step at a time, and we're more worried about what we're doing rather than making comparisons."

The thought of beating a team by more than your rival did is a natural first reaction, but such speculation quickly disappears when game preparation begins in earnest.

"As you start preparing to play the games, you realize it doesn't really matter," said slot receiver Nathan Meikle about performances against common opponents. "A win is a win and you really can't compare the two because the circumstances are different; players' health is different; and the match ups are different. Initially it's something that comes across one's mind at first but as you start preparing what matters most is if the outcome of the game favors you and not what someone else did. It really doesn't matter and the only thing that does matter is if you win or lose."

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

As BYU prepares for face the Aztecs this weekend, cornerback Ben Criddle is hoping to capitalize on future interception opportunities after failing to take advantage of several earlier chances.

Click on the following link to hear Ben Criddle talk about San Diego State and how he hopes to finally hold on to his first interception.

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