Dick Harmon: Is BYU-Utah too early? Here it comes

Published: Monday, Sept. 12 2011 8:27 p.m. MDT

PROVO — Rivalry Week in real heat with full, green leaves on trees and tomatoes on the vine.

It's too early for this, isn't it?

It's too early for all that sports talk radio chatter, stirring up partisans with dial-in lampoons and newspaper and TV stations trolling for great quotes, features re-creating stereotypes, and tie-ins of red and blue that live and love but split emotions for a period of four hours one day a year.

Can't we all just recover from the Coliseum and Texas Memorial Stadium and last Saturday?

It's too early to reflect back on the storied best plays, the best games, the best personalities, the best finishes. Isn't it?

We've barely emptied our swimming pools and have yet to winterize our boats and RVs or put away the BBQs. The hate meters aren't quite ready. Maybe that's a good thing.

It's too early to rehash Max Hall, Lenny Gomes, Ryan Kaneshiro, Harline's Still Open, Fourth-and-18, the Ute yell leader beatdown of a rail-jumping BYU fan, Paul Kruger's catches and The Blocked Field Goal. Isn't it?

No, folks, it is here, The Game. The week has begun. It started with reporters' questions directed toward BYU and Utah players and coaches late last Saturday.

It's started with events like that Deseret Duel competition. It's started with the debut of Lance Brown's children's book "The Answered Prayer," an illustrated piece remembering Jonny Harline's game-winning touchdown catch from John Beck in 2006. Brown will have book signings at Lehi's Costco Thursday evening and before Saturday's game at Costco in Orem. It's sure to go over well with Ute fans.

Pick your angle, this is the time to go after it.

This Saturday is the time Utah and BYU are forced to play, not around Thanksgiving when most big rivalry games are played. There's even talk of making it the season opener. Blasphemy.

This is the new era of Pac-12 and independence. Nobody asked the fans; the fans were told: This is when we'll do it. Rivalry in September. Ready or not.

This is so early in the season that Kyle Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall are still trying to find identities for their teams and work out kinks and wrinkles. In the past eight weeks, neither has had enough time to polish their products, apply makeup to warts or trim unwanted stubble.

The two defensive-minded head coaches have watched their teams be, well, very defensive so far.

Mendenhall and Whittingham, you guys are up. Whatever you hope your teams will be in two months will be. As for Saturday, just do your thing with your 1-1 defensive teams that need some offensive issues resolved.

Here's the deal. When BYU went on the road to Ole Miss and Texas and the Utes took on USC, it wasn't UNLV and New Mexico. I predicted losses last weekend because of the time of the season and their opponents' talent.

The key to recovery is twofold. Are BYU and Utah's offensive issues systemic or execution? Systemic issues have to do with issues like talent, depth or the strength of a QB's arm — those items can't be changed this fall. Execution can be enhanced with work and practice. Execution can also be improved against weaker competition.

This week, the Ute and Cougar offenses will face outstanding defenses. Creeping up on weakness for a truckload of points isn't happening.

Issues that are systemic will remain. If Jordan Wynn's ball flutters, it's not going to suddenly turn into a laser-guided missile. If BYU's mature offensive line can't protect and run block against Texas' talent, it isn't suddenly going to do so against a Utah or TCU.

Problems of execution will be resolved, but not to the extent one could say "night and day" because of the quality of defenses each face come Saturday.

This is what makes Saturday's game so intriguing.

How much can Mendenhall and Whittingham do in one week this early to give us their best in September?

How would this game play out in late November?

We'll never know.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

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