BYU, Utah Utes football: Band of brothers fuels heated Utes-Cougars rivalry
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Ancestry.com would have a field day charting the family trees in Saturday night's Utah-BYU rivalry.
Forget that Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Norm Chow were both Cougars at one point decades ago.
The roots that carry a ton of weight go right to the trenches.
For Utah, the next line of Kruger brothers fuels a defense that has been stingy the first two games — allowing a combined 27 points and forcing five turnovers.
For BYU, two Reynolds brothers form the core of an offensive line that will need a solid showing if quarterback Jake Heaps and the run game are to get untracked.
On Saturday they'll go head to head.
"That's going to be one of the highlighted matchups in the game," Whittingham said.
At left tackle for BYU is Matt Reynolds, a projected first-round pick in the NFL draft who came back for his senior season. Next to him at guard is 6-2 sophomore Houston Reynolds, the last of four brothers to come through the program in addition to their father, Lance, a former star lineman and the team's assistant head coach who is entering his 28th season at BYU.
"He's a big dude," sophomore Joe Kruger, Utah's starting left defensive end, said of Matt Reynolds (6-6, 305). "I'm excited to line up against him. It's going to be real competitive. Both of us will be going as hard as we can every play. It's going to be a battle every play."
Call it the rivalry within the rivalry, one that figures to be every bit as contentious despite being played in September instead of late November after both teams opted out of the Mountain West Conference.
The Kruger boys certainly have the genes, even if their family tree has both Utah red and BYU blue in it, plus a little orange.
Their grandfather earned a pair of degrees from Utah before becoming a BYU health professor. Their father played defensive end at Oregon State.
The next generation starts with eldest brother Paul, an all-conference defensive end for Utah in 2008 who now plays linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Junior Dave Kruger is part of Utah's defensive line rotation.
And the fourth brother, Mark, is a junior at Utah's Pleasant Grove High School, ready to make his own mark after shooting up six inches the past year.
While Joe hasn't piled up the stats the way Paul did in two years before jumping to the NFL, he's on his way.
"When (Joe) first got here, he was someone I had to welcome to the program, give him the old brother-in-law," said Utah left tackle Tony Bergstrom, who is married to the Krugers' sister. "Now roles are reversed and I'm just trying to fight my way through and hold him off long enough (in practice). He's come such a long way."
Bergstrom said Joe Kruger may be 6-6, 270, but runs like a guy 30 pounds lighter.
"He's a beast in the run game and his pass-rush moves have really picked up. He's got a whole arsenal now," Bergstrom said.
Joe Kruger just hopes he can bring it Saturday in what many figure could be a defensive slugfest considering neither offense has found its groove.
"Every time we line up against these guys it's just really intense," Joe Kruger said of a rivalry that dates to 1898 when BYU was known as the BY Academy.
"The whole state is talking about it and everybody is anticipating what's going to happen. I remember growing up and watching. Now that I'm playing, it's kind of weird. But I'm excited."
If the past is any indication, the game will go down to the wire. Five of the last six have gone down to the final play, including the last two.
In 2009, Andrew George scored the winning touchdown in overtime for BYU, while Brandon Burton blocked a field goal last year to give Utah the dramatic victory.
"That part of it is very exciting," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "All the rest of it, in terms of how my neighbors and anyone else reacts to it, I could do without."
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