PROVO — It's an unusual and strange time for BYU and Utah to be colliding on the football field — the fierce, long-time rivals haven't met in the month of September since 1958.
But the Cougars say it's the ideal time.
Forget the traditional late-November showdown. Ready or not, it's Rivalry Week, as BYU hosts Utah Saturday (7:15 p.m., ESPN2).
In the wake of last Saturday's disappointing 17-16 setback at Texas, BYU (1-1) is looking forward to its home-opener in a historic meeting with the Utes (1-1). It's a new chapter, a new era, in the rivalry.
Until this year, BYU and Utah had been members of the same conference since 1909. Now, the Cougars are in their first season as an independent and the Utes are in their first season as members of the Pac-12.
But when it comes to the timing of this year's matchup, BYU isn't thinking about the 86 previous games. The Cougars are thinking about how they can get better after squandering a 13-0 lead in front of 100,000 fans at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium over the weekend.
Asked if it would be "bizarre" to play Utah so early in the season, quarterback Jake Heaps replied, "No, I don't think it's bizarre. It's actually exactly what we need at this point. It's a perfect remedy to get over this loss."
"The Utah game is a whole different animal, regardless of what time of year it is," said left tackle Matt Reynolds. "I think the team looks at it that way. It's just another opportunity for us to come out and show that we can make some improvements and that we can be the type of football team we think we can be. Regardless of (the game being played at) beginning or the end of the season, it's BYU versus Utah. And I don't think there's anybody that's not going to be up for that."
Added Heaps: "We have a big game against Utah at our place. I think this is going to make our team a lot closer and unite us."
No doubt, the Cougars will be hungry to get back to playing again, especially against a team that handed them a bitter 17-16 loss last November at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which was the final time the two teams played each other as members of the Mountain West Conference.
In fact, Saturday's defeat at Texas was eerily similar to the loss in Salt Lake City, and not just because of the identical final scores in those games.
Against the Utes 10 months ago, BYU was in control and had a 13-0 advantage going into the fourth quarter before Utah stormed back with 17 points in the final period. The Cougars drove deep into Ute territory before Mitch Payne attempted a potential game-winning 42-yard field in the waning seconds. But Brandon Burton flew around BYU's line and blocked the kick, preserving a dramatic victory for Utah.
Against the Longhorns, the Cougars were in control and led 13-0 in the second quarter and 13-3 at halftime before collapsing in the second half. In the final two quarters, BYU was outgained in total yardage, 201-67, and Heaps completed only 8-of-14 passes for 39 yards.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said his team will be ready to play this week.
"They're going to be motivated. They're disappointed because they believed they could have won a football game," the coach explained. "They believed that they prepared hard. They know now there are some things they certainly could have done better. I think what they're feeling now is just hurt, as they should. A missed opportunity. There's a lot of football left to go. And that's great."
"I expect a really hard practice on Monday," said BYU safety Travis Uale.
Meanwhile, Utah can relate. The Utes are also coming off a close, gut-wrenching defeat on the road as they dropped a 23-14 decision at USC Saturday night.
While the Cougar defense limited the Longhorns to less than 20 points, BYU's offense sputtered for the second consecutive week. In two games this season, the Cougars have scored only two offensive touchdowns, both on TD passes from Heaps to freshman Ross Apo.
The disparity between BYU's offense and its defense is evident by the numbers. While the Cougars are No. 22 in the country in total defense and No. 29 in scoring defense, they are a dismal No. 108 in total offense, and No. 107 in scoring offense.
That is not what was expected from a squad returning 10 starters on offense from a year ago. But Mendenhall is confident that the offense will improve..
"It'll come," he said. "Another significant test coming up, which will be a great thing to help us move past (Saturday's loss) because there's no time to do anything other than recommit and examine the things you can do better and move forward."
Mendenhall said that first-year offensive coordinator Brandon Doman is "right on track and doing a really nice job," adding that he saw improvement from week one to week two, but that he would like to see more consistency.
For BYU, consistency on offense couldn't come a moment too soon. There is a sense of urgency. As far as the Cougars are concerned, breaking out offensively this week against their arch-rivals would be ideal timing indeed.
Cougars and Utes
Utah (1-1) at BYU (1-1)
Saturday, 7:15 p.m.
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