If It Ain't Broke…

The BYU Cougars are riding an eight-game win streak into their annual grudge match with the Utah Utes. Statistically, BYU has just about every advantage over Utah, but when these two teams meet, emotion seems to take over. In an effort to maintain their momentum and on-paper superiority, the Cougars are going to prepare the same way they have for the last eight victories.

"It's just another team," said defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen. "That's how you have to look at it. What we've been doing has been working, so why change it? That's the attitude we have. We've prepared hard for every opponent and we've done well against almost all of them, so we're going to have that mindset going into this one."

"All we've ever cared about is the next game and this week it's Utah," added linebacker Kelly Poppinga. "We just need to do what we've done all year. Prepare well, execute the way we can and we'll be fine. It's the same for every team you play."

So if it isn't broke, then why fix it? Granted little has gone wrong or broken down for this year's team up to this final regular season game. Each week, head coach Bronco Mendenhall has been very good at getting a consistent and focused effort from his players as they prepare for his team's next opponent. The mindset this week remains the same for BYU regardless of the emotional component of playing its rival.

"The mentality this week is that it's just another game," said Manase Tonga. "That's not to take away from the fact that it's the rivalry, but that's how we're going into it. It's how we're preparing for it. We just need to play like we're supposed to play and how we've been playing, and we'll be fine."

So it is business as usual in Provo. Surely, though, with the risk of a second class of Cougars graduating without notching a win over their bitter rivals, there is at least some emotion heading into Saturday's game?

"Of course there is," admitted Poppinga. "This is our rival. Not only that, but they've beaten us the last four years. We want to beat our rivals and we want to go out winners. We haven't had that Beehive Boot for a long time, and it's time we get it."

In-state dominance was a hallmark of the BYU program through the so-called "glory years." In Coach Mendenhall's quest to bring those days back to BYU, victories over the Cougars' biggest in-state rival would seem paramount. In fact, it is.

"The butterflies started going in my stomach the second the New Mexico game was over because I knew Utah was next," said Jorgensen. "This game means a lot, but we have to maintain our composure and do what we've been doing."

"We know they want this game very bad, but believe me, we want this game every bit as much as they do," said Poppinga. "Nobody wants to get beat by their rivals, but you can't let that drive you. You have to keep your emotions in check or you don't execute like you can which is what happened last year."

Last year, two entirely different BYU teams took the field to begin each half. While the second half was executed well, the first half was nothing short of a disaster for BYU, which was clearly the better team heading into the match up. Learning from and avoiding a similar fate is the primary focus this week as the team prepares for the Utes.

"We need to maintain our cool because that is what killed us last year," said Tonga. "We just came out so amped up that I think a lot of us lost focus. We didn't play BYU football in that first half. In the second half we did. Now we just need to put those two halves together and we'll be fine."

"We got stuck in too much emotion for an entire half and didn't get out of it until after halftime, and by that time it was too late," said Poppinga. "If we let that happen again then the same thing will probably happen again. We just need to have the same emotion we've had in our last eleven games, and we'll be fine."

So how is it done? How do the Cougs hold their emotions in check and just play your game while maintaining a requisite level of intensity?

"Coaches are just keeping us real busy making us focus on a bunch of stuff so we don't have time to let our emotions get the better of us," said Tonga. "We all know what went wrong last year, and we've learned from it. We know how to win, and if we do what we know we're capable of doing, we don't need anything else. We should win this game if we do what we've been doing every game so far this year. If we let emotions take over then the same thing could happen that did last year."


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