Game Preview: Utah vs BYU

The Holy Way has lost some luster, but the game is still the biggest in the state

Facts and Factors

Utah (1-1, 0-0 Pac-12) hosts No. 25 Brigham Young (2-0) in Homecoming on Saturday, Sept. 15. The sixth-annual Deseret First Duel Rivalry game will kick off at 8:00 p.m. MT in Rice-Eccles Stadium and will be televised nationally on ESPN2. The game is sold out. Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com).

Utah leads the series with BYU 55-34-4, although the Cougars don't recognize six games (split equally 3-3) when it was known as the Brigham Young Academy. With or without those six games, this is the second-longest rivalry in Utah history.

Utah has won seven of the last 10 games with the Cougars, including a 54-10 victory in Provo last year. Utah has a two-game win streak going and has won four of the last five contests in Salt Lake City.

Utah is 56-31-4 all-time in Homecoming games and 1-0 against BYU (30-21 in 1968). Utah is 8-6 in homecoming games played in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which opened in 1998.

Utah and BYU competed in the same conference for 113 years until parting ways last year when the Utes began membership in the Pac-12 Conference and the Cougars went independent.

Jordan Wynn, Utah's starting quarterback since his true freshman season in 2009, is retiring after injuring his shoulder in last week's game at USU. Wynn has had three shoulder surgeries since 2010. See Wynn Retires for more.

Saturday's game will mark the 14th-straight sellout of Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes have sold out every home game since 2010.

Jordan Wynn, who in 2009 was named the Poinsettia Bowl MVP to cap the best season ever by a Utah true freshman, announced that he is retiring from the sport after his fourth shoulder injury since 2010. Wynn was beginning his fourth season as the starter but was only a junior in eligibility due to a medical extension from the NCAA for his season-ending injury last year. He finishes his career with a 14-7 record and played in 22 games total. Wynn has had three shoulder surgeries (two to his left arm) and the extent of his latest shoulder injury is still being evaluated. He leaves the field ranked eighth in career passing yards at Utah (4,637), completing 60-percent of his pass attempts (375-of-621). He is one of 11 quarterbacks in school history to throw for 4,000 yards and his 33 touchdown throws are the sixth-most by a Ute quarterback. Wynn had 11 games with 200 or more passing yards, four of which were 300-yard games. In six quarters this season, Wynn completed 25-of-38 passes (65.8%) for 247 yards and two touchdowns (one interception). He has completed a bachelor's degree in economics and is currently working toward a second degree in sociology.

Three of Utah's coaches played at BYU, including head coach Kyle Whittingham from 1978-81. As a senior, he was the Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team all-WAC linebacker. Ute defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake played fullback for the Cougars in 1994 and 1997-2000 and receivers coach Aaron Roderick was a BYU receiver from 1997-98. Cougar defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi was at Utah from 1994-2001 as a graduate assistant, defensive line coach and defensive ends coach. Former Ute defensive lineman Jason Kaufusi (2000-03) is now a BYU defensive graduate assistant.

Standings for two rivalry trophies will be contested in Saturday's game: the Deseret First Duel and the Beehive Boot. The Deseret Duel is awarded to Utah or BYU, while the Beehive Boot is contested by Utah, BYU and Utah State. Utah has won three of the five Deseret Duel trophies and has taken possession of the Beehive Boot 12 times. BYU has captured the boot 22 times and USU seven times. In 2010, both Utah and USU beat BYU but did not play each other, and the Aggies were awarded the boot by a media vote. Utah is 0-1 this season in Beehive Boot competition after last week's overtime loss to USU.

Saturday at 5:30 p.m., fans lined up at the corner of Guardsman Way and 500 South will participate in the pre-game Ute Walk … The Runnin' Ute men's basketball team will welcome fans at the gates … The annual ROTC ball run—this year from Provo to Salt Lake City—will end with a presentation of the game ball before kickoff ... Governor Gary Herbert will attend the game … The bands from both schools will perform together at halftime.

With quarterback Jordan Wynn retiring after reinjuring his left (non-throwing) shoulder late in the second quarter of last Friday's game at USU, senior Jon Hays and freshman Travis Wilson are now listed as the co-starters. Both Hays and Wilson played against USU, although Hays got the majority of the reps … Starting left guard Jeremiah Tofaeono will return to the lineup this week against BYU. He missed the USU game with a sore knee ... Sean Sellwood leads the nation in punt average (52.6). He tied a school record against Utah State with six punts of over 50 yards … Safety Tyron Morris-Edwards' jersey says Morris on the back because there is not room for his full name. He prefers to be referred to as Morris-Edwards.

Utah has not scored in the first quarter in its first two games and opponents have not scored on the Utes in the second or third quarters … Dating back to last season, Utah is 9-0 when John White rushes for 100 yards. He netted 96 in last week's OT loss to USU … White, currently 17th in career rushing yards at Utah (1,734), needs 40 yards to jump into a 14th-place tie with current Utah student coach Quinton Ganther (1,774 yards from 2004-05). Ganther was drafted in the seventh round by Tennessee in 2006 and also played for Washington, Seattle and Buffalo … After two games, opponents are converting on just 21% of their third down attempts (6-28) … Utah is 5-9 in the red zone (all touchdowns), while opponents are 3-3 (all TDs).

When Utah Has the Ball

It's back to Jon Hays. He's the man again, and despite what Kyle Whittingham has said publicly, will get the nod on Saturday as the starter. Travis Wilson will get his reps, and maybe even a whole series at some point, but against BYU, this is Hays' team. Hays was moderately efective last week against Utah State, helping lead the comebacker, but finished only 12 of 26 for 154 yards and a touchdown. The most important thing for Hays this week, as it was all of last year, is to avoid mistakes, make the necessary plays, avoid mistakes, and continue to avoid mistakes.

Pressure. Utah State threw pressure at Utah's weak offensive line last week and it worked time and time again. Jordan Wynn was knocked out, Jon Hays was somewhat ineffective, and Utah had trouble moving the ball. Jeremiah Tofaeono will be back, helping solidify the line, and I expect them to be much better this week, even against a stronger opponent. With Sam Brenner at left tackle, and Vyncent Jones now in the starting lineup, Utah has their five best offensive linemen on the field as starters.

With BYU's 3-4 defense, and a linebacking corps that is probably one of the top 15 groups in the country, BYU is going to send linebacker after linebacker after Hays and Wilson on the blitz, trying to disrupt their rhythm and keep the Utah offensive line working hard. They're allowing only 55 yards per game on the ground behind the play of Kyle Van Noy, Uona Kavienga, Spencer Hadley, and Brandon Ogletree. Van Noy is the best of the group, but the rest of them aren't slouches either. They have the majority of BYU's 9 sacks on the year.

The defensive front is led by NT Romney Fuga, who at 6-2, 318 pounds is a load inside. Eathyn Manumaleuna and Russell Tialevea are solid ends. They'll match up with the Utah offensive line that has been a disaster to this point.

In the running game, we don't know what we're going to get out of John White. He really broke out last season against BYU, but was noticeably hobbled this week. He will play, but how effective is he going to be, and how long will Whittingham and Johnson stick with him if the injury has a big impact? If White needs a breather, Kelvin York, and Jarrell Oliver will be ready. The combined for only 1 carry last week, but you can expect closer to 10 carries between the two this week. The biggest key in the running game will be the offensive line and whether or not they can get into the second level to help the backs pick up bigger chunks of yards.

Where has Devonte Christopher gone? He still leads the team in catches with 8, but isn't making the impact on the game that made him such a dangerous player in both 2010 an 2011. The Utes need to utilize their speed advantage on the outside with Christopher, Dres Anderson, and Kenneth Scott. Short, quick routes to get them the ball in space, and let them make plays will force the BYU linebackers to drop into coverage at time, giving Hays more time, and Utah can utilize John White on draw plays up the middle. The tight ends should be featured more this week, especially Jake Murphy and David Rolf. Rolf was arguably Utah's top offensive player against Utah State last week and Brian Johnson would be smart to work short, quick throws to the entire tight end corps early and often.

It's going to be a struggle for the Utes offensively, and short fields setup by the defense or special teams will be helpful.

Advantage: BYU

When BYU Has the Ball

It's the Riley Nelson show, and the first time the Utes will get a good look at the much improved, mobile quarterback. Nelson is a playmaker, who has the legs to get outside the pocket and make plays, as well as pick up big yards on designed runs. The Utah linebackers and ends will need to stay in their gaps and stay home or Nelson will burn them on designed runs and when the pocket breaks down.

The Utah front four should be fine. They won't sack Nelson a ton, but they'll try bring pressure and get in his face enough to throw off his rhythm while still staying home enough to keep him from making too many big plays with his legs. Only four sacks through two games is a bit of a . Utah needs to control the line of scrimmage, and they likely will against a BYU offensive line that is good, but not great.

The Hansen Boys, not related, are the anchors of the line. They're joined by redshirt freshman Ryker Matthews, sophomore Blair Tushaus, and Houston Reynolds. There is a lot of meat across the line and they've done a solid job of protecting Nelson to this point, but haven't seen a front four like Utah has yet.

Expect to see more of LT Filiaga this week. He was easily the most effective Utah linebacker last week. They showed some weaknesses in coverage, and the rotations should be tighter this week with less substitutions. If the defensive line does their job, stays in their gaps and stays home, and the linebackers do the same, BYU will have trouble moving the ball on the ground. Michael Alisa is the feature back but is averaging only 53 yards per game on the ground. Jamal Williams, David Foote, and quarterback Taysom Hill will also receive multiple carries.

The Utes will be rolling out a new starter at safety this week with Eric Rowe out. Tyron Morris-Edwards will likely get the nod opposite Quade Chappuis, who's filling in for suspended Brian Blechen for a third straight game. Along with corners Moe Lee and Ryan Lacy, they'll matchup with BYU receivers like Cody Hoffman, Ross Apo, and JD Falslev, who are some of the most athletic ever to suit up for the Cougars. Hoffman is tied for the team lead with 10 catches with tight end Kaneakua Friel.

In their first two games, the Utes have put themselves in position to force turnovers time and time again, but have lacked an ability to finish plays and take the ball back into their possession. If they want to win this game, the defense has to complete those plays and force turnovers.

Advantage: Utah

Special Teams

The Utah placekicking game has been poor to this point. Coleman Peterson has missed two field goals and an extra point, while his miss at the end of the USU forced the game into overtime.

The Utah punt return game has also been poor. Neither Geoff Norwood or Charles Henderson has taken control of the duties with minimal returns to this point. BYU is averaging 17.5 yards per punt return and 39 yards per kickoff return.

The one bright spot for Utah on special teams as been punter Sean Sellwood, who leads the nation in punting average.

Advantage: BYU

Coaching

These are both solid coaching staffs, if not very good coaching staffs. They know each other well with many guys with many ties to each other's programs. There is youth on the offensive side of the ball for both teams with Brandon Doman still in his infancy as a coordinator, while Brian Johnson is in only his 3rd game. The overall difference between these coaching staffs? Other schools come calling after guys like Kyle Whittingham and Kalani Sitake. BYU coaches aren't in demand outside of Provo.

Advantage: Utah

Intangibles

Utah has won 7 of the last 10 against BYU, with 3 of those blowouts of more than 20 points. Coming off of the 54-10 win form last season, Utah has to like how well they match up with the Cougars.

Advantage: Utah

Prediction

This game will playout like most over the last ten years. If it isn't a Utah blowout, it'll come down to the final possession, and Utah isn't blowing out BYU this year. Expect Utah to come out firing on offense right away, attempting a few deep balls along the sidelines and working the tight ends over the middle for 10-15 yards at a time to try to open up the running game against BYU's solid front 7. The Utes were succeptible to big plays when the pocket broke down against USU and Chuckie Keeton took off running. Riley Nelson will have similar luck at times, but won't pull as many big plays as Keeton did. The Ute defense will hold the Cougar running game under 100 yards, forcing Nelson to beat them with his arm, while the Utah secondary will keep the BYU receivers in check. Utah will get just enough out of Jon Hays and the Utah backs will combine for over 150 yards on the ground, while a second half turnover by the Cougs turns the tide and the Utes squeak one out.

Utah 19 BYU 17

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