"Oh, it means everything," said Cougar tight end Andrew George. "I've been a Cougar fan my whole life. My parents went to BYU and I know all about the rivalry. I didn't grow up in Utah but I know what it's all about. This is my fourth year at BYU. I know the feelings between the two teams and I've played in the games. It's exciting and we have to be ready because Utah is flying high right now and we know that. On the other hand we want to reach our goals. We know that we still can and that there are a lot of things on the table that we can still control."
"Our mentality is winning and that's what we want to do," said Fui Vakapuna. "I want that ring and we want our championship. This is what all of the seniors want and it's going to be a lot of fun. There's going to be a lot of emotion, but our goal is to play within ourselves and play execution football. We're all just excited to play."
During the one day of access allowed to media last Monday, the word "emotion" was often spoken by many of these Cougars preparing for the last game of the regular season. It was a topic of discussion that came up abated or not.
"You can't really explain the emotion when you play this team," said Vakapuna. "I was telling some of our players that you can't explain the emotion you have when you play this team because it's a big rivalry. When you play Utah and feel that emotion, then you understand how big of a game this is and how critical it is. It's about playing for the conference championship. We have a second chance to accomplish our goals and we want to go out and take it."
"Oh, emotions are going to be flying high on both sides of the ball," said George. "We talked about that as a team and we have to be focused. Things are going to happen on the field. People are going to be pumped up and flying around. There maybe some dirty shots here and there, so you have to keep your composure and not retaliate. I mean, it's always the second guy that gets caught, so we really need to keep our composure this week."
Playing with emotion is an aspect Cougar fans have been longing to see since BYU's 59-0 victory over UCLA. The emotion that both Vakapuna and George speak of hasn't just simply come from the fact that they are playing Utah. Sure, the game in and of itself can cause a team to rise up emotionally to the challenge, knowing what's at stake, but the core of this week's emotion can be placed squarely at the feet of BYU wide receiver Austin Collie, who gave an emotional halftime speech during the Air Force game.
"We just needed a little kick in the butt and that's what Austin gave us," Vakapuna said. "We knew we could play but we also knew that Air Force was going to play nonstop and all-out, and when Austin gave a speech about that it gave us a little kick in the butt."
"It put some emotion into what we were doing," said George. "It didn't come from a coach, it came from Austin. You knew it came from his heart. The way that he spoke and the look in his eyes, you knew that it came from his heart. He wanted to win the game and he knew that we could play better, and we knew that we could play better too. For someone like Austin to step up really helped motivate us, and I think it has really changed things for us. This could be a turning point for us from that speech alone. It's really helped our team a lot."
Although the U of U defense may not be as fast as TCU's, the Cougar offense will face a Kyle Whittingham defense that is in possession of speed. Ball control and execution while playing a more physical game up front could be the key for the Cougar offense.
"They're fast and have a good front four," said Vakapuna. "We just have to use what we have for our advantage, and that's what we're going to do. We're going to play balanced football, execute and not worry about what they show while finding their weaknesses."
"They're a tough physical defense and like to play a lot of man coverage, but they'll do some zone as well," George said. "They like to try and knock you off your routes as well. They run a 4-3-4 defense and will try and man-press us a lot. That's something that we'll be preparing for a lot prior to the game on Saturday and we'll be prepared for them. Over the next couple of days we'll be studying them pretty hard and watching the games they've played over the year."
Earlier in the season, BYU lost to conference foe TCU on the road in Forth Worth, Texas, and although the Cougars lost the nation's longest winning streak, all was not lost. The Cougars came away from that experience having learned new things about themselves. Many on the team feel in the end it has helped them better prepare for what's in store for the rivalry game against Utah.
"There were a lot of things we learned from the TCU films that we missed on," said George. "In a lot of ways I think the loss to TCU was one of the best things that could have happened to us this year. It showed us what we needed to improve on in order for us to go forward into this game against Utah."
Vakapuna's Keys to Victory
Vakapuna knows this is his last regular season game and wants to make sure that it is a memorable one for all the right reasons. He gave what he believes are the keys to victory.
"I think getting a block within your responsibility and ball security," Vakapuna said. "Ball security is important. I also think we need to execute like we know how, and when we do that I think we can run or pass on any defense. That's what we have to do and we'll see what happens come game day when we bring all of our schemes out on game day. I think we'll be ready and well prepared."
Nixon Talks About Utah
Like with Vakapuna, this will be the last time that BYU senior outside linebacker David Nixon faces rival Utah. Nixon talks about the upcoming game against Utah in this audio interview.