photos by Scott G. Winterton, Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Since taking over their respective programs in 2005, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall have split six head-to-head meetings. Five of the rivalry games have been decided by a touchdown, two went into overtime and the overall point differential is just 20 points.
"Not only have the games been split 3-3, five of the six have come down to the last play, and I'm not sure what other rivalry in the country has something like that happening," Mendenhall said. "But it makes for, I think, a great game and a great setting."
The next installment of the tightly contested series is Saturday night in Provo. It'll be the earliest meeting in a season between Utah and BYU, who traditionally met in late-November before the Utes joined the Pac-12 and the Cougars opted for football independence.
While it remains to be seen how it may ultimately affect the rivalry, the Mendenhall-Whittingham era couldn't be any more competitive.
"It's probably as exciting now as it's ever been and maybe more so," Whittingham said before addressing the 3-3 split. "That's been the nature of this rivalry for a lot of years now. It's been back-and-forth. It's been very lopsided one way or the other throughout the history of the rivalry, but I'm pretty sure the last 15 or so years have been the most competitive as far as back-and-forth."
The past 24 games, as a matter of fact, have resulted in 12 victories for each team.
"If you come out on the right end of the score, it's fun; if not, it's not-so-fun. So I would say it really boils down to the outcome," Whittingham said. "But as you reflect back and look at the body of work over the past several years, it's been a very intense, competitive situation."
Especially since Mendenhall and Whittingham have served as head coaches.
"I think that we're both very competitive, very intense and driven and want the best for our programs," Mendenhall said.
As such, they've maintained a professional relationship, but nothing close to the friendship LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride developed during their head-to-head battles.
"It takes a pretty unique personality or set of personalities to make it kind of go beyond profession, which I think both LaVell and Ron McBride had," Mendenhall said. "I think it's 'A' typical, but I think it's ideal and I think Kyle and I, we just kind of ended up having it being professional is how it's best managed."
They share similar backgrounds in terms of being defensive-minded coaches, Mendenhall noted, and they've kind of instilled what he said are "just tough and competitive teams."
Whittingham said it's fair to say there's a sense of mutual respect.
Both coaches, however, acknowledged the rivalry game and its close finishes can be taxing.
"They take their toll, I can tell you that much. But it's been great competition," Whittingham said. "It's why you're in the profession — to compete. These games have been as competitive and as exciting as it gets."
While noting that one-point games against Mississippi and Texas have already been taxing, Mendenhall noted that a rivalry game and in-state implications probably magnify things. To what degree, though, is hard to measure.
"It takes a day or two to recover," he said before adding the early season meeting may change things.
"It'll be unique now to see, No. 1, how the game plays out and then, with so much of the season left, what toll that takes, if anything different."
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