Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
PROVO — The 17-16 loss of last year still smolders with BYU.
Unpredictable twists, turns and strange bounces have led to remarkable victories of late in the BYU-Utah series. A year ago, providence smiled on Utah.
The results of that game are motivation in the BYU camp for Saturday. The Cougars had led Utah for 58½ minutes, but lost in the end.
"We felt we played so well and just lost," said Cougar running back Bryan Kariya.
In the fourth quarter last year, a poor Utah punt grazed the leg of a Cougar player and gave the Utes the ball at midfield. BYU's Brandon Bradley made an interception and the ball was stripped in a controversial fumble. Utah then blocked a potential game-winning field goal with no time left.
That loss, on those type of plays, is exactly the brand of drama the rivalry has produced in this decade.
BYU has had its share of celebrating wins on fluke plays. Last year, it was Utah's turn.
It hurts to lose on those kinds of plays. "It was harder to get over with for sure," said Kariya.
Said Kariya, "I hope that is burning in everybody today to motivate them to make sure we're even more precise and execute even better on the plays we do have control over so we don't have any of those fluky mistakes."
The crazy John Beck pass to Jonny Harline in 2006, the fourth-and-18 conversion by Max Hall to Austin Collie in 2007, the Hall to Andrew George TD pass in overtime in 2009. Add to those the fourth-quarter gems by Utah a year ago and you have the kind of plays that create lore.
Some may call them fluke plays. Others call it luck. Collie made mention of divine providence on his BYU-Utah play in his day. Still, others believe these kinds of things are simply meant to be, like karma or some kind of destiny.
"You can't really prepare for some of those things, they just happen. But what you can do is make sure on the other plays you have control over, you are filling your responsibility and making the best of every play," said Kariya, a Cougar captain.
A year ago, Kariya left Rice-Eccles Stadium with a chip on his shoulder. He couldn't wait to play the Utes once again.
"I definitely feel it. It seems like we just played them about a month ago in my mind. It feels like a quick turnaround from last season to play them again. I'm excited to go out there, shoulder to shoulder and play them again. That's the feeling of the entire team, to go out and show what we can do."
The challenge for the Cougars come Saturday is taking on Utah's outstanding defense, led by a beefy, strong and deep front four.
BYU will need to run the ball more effectively than the Cougars showed at Texas, and Kariya must be a part of it. Last Saturday, Kariya was ill in the first half of that game at Austin. He is anxious to be part of BYU's run solution.
"You never want to be on the sidelines in a close game. You want to part of pushing the limits of what you can do." Last Saturday, Kariya got on the team bus lacking bruises and the body stress that follows having mixed it up on the field. He didn't like feeling so physically comfortable after a loss.
"Having 43 rushing yards isn't what we want to do. It is not acceptable. We want it turned around, and we feel a real sense of urgency to get it done."
Kariya goes up against a pretty stout BYU defense daily in practice, and he believes that prepares the Cougars for what is in store for them against the Utes.
"They really help us prepare for the game. We have to get better with our execution, no matter what defense we go up against."
And that boils down to making the unpredictable more predictable.
Funny thing is, Utah vs. BYU is predictably becoming very unpredictable.
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