Dick Harmon: Cougars have chance for credibility, Utes look to avoid 0-5 start in Pac-12

Cougars seek credibility against TCU

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 26 2011 7:00 p.m. MDT

Kyle Whittingham will need his offense to cut down on turnovers and hold the ball against the Beavers in order to get a win in the Pac-12.

Ravell Call, Deseret News


The Cougars and Utes have to stop jackpotting around.

The Utes are on the verge of going 0-5 in the Pac-12 if they don't defeat Oregon State Saturday in Rice-Eccles Stadium. Just thinking about that is astounding.

BYU, a team that's ripped off a five-game win streak against weak opponents, has a final chance to validate the notion that the Cougars are an improved, decent football team, and Riley Nelson is for real.

It's that simple folks. This weekend looms huge for these two squads, their coaching staffs and fans.

Going 0-5 in the Pac-12 in Utah's first season in its Golden Parachute entry into a BCS league does a disservice to its former non-BCS brothers. No matter the circumstances, it doesn't look right and confirms criticism of many there is a big chasm between those who belong in automatic qualifying leagues and those who don't.

Of course, that is unfair. Utah has had some horrendous misfortune at quarterback and has been caught with a sliver of depth at running back and has protection issues — all unusual for the double-BCS-bowl winner.

It's not all one guy, or a coordinator or Ute blocker. It's a village.

"At times (quarterback Jon) Hays holds the ball too long, at times the offensive line has had breakdowns, at times it's been the blocking," said coach Kyle Whittingham.

"It's been the running backs missing blitz pickups. The tight ends are also involved, and the receivers are also involved if they run incorrect routes and there is no one open, that can be a factor."

The Cougars are 6-2 but have not defeated a team with a winning record. The closest the Cougars came was a one-point loss in Austin to a 4-2 Texas team that has been ranked.

BYU's credibility at 6-2? It is all on the line. A quality independent? Friday helps with the answer.

Now comes speedy, tough, mean and talented Big 12-bound TCU.

"We've tried to liken it as much as we could to Texas, Ole Miss and Central Florida," said Bronco Mendenhall. "Teams we thought were fast as well. Those games are in the past but just to say that we have faced fast teams. This offense's approach is different. And it is difficult. We will put that message across to our players that the challenge is a difficult challenge.

"And it is done with fast players and physical players and so that is going to require a very high level of preparation."

BYU's opponents are a combined 21-35, a .375 winning percentage. That isn't very good competition. That's why playing and defeating a 5-2 Horned Frog team Friday night is so important for Cougar credibility. Plus, its on ESPN, the Mother Ship. And, it's in Cowboy Stadium — a huge stage.

Utah, at 3-4, needs three more wins for bowl eligibility. The Ute record comes against foes with a respectable 36-15 mark, or a .706 win percentage.

The Utes have taken a tougher bite than the Cougars this season with higher risks and stakes.

But when everything winds down, will Utah's main claim to fame this season be a 44-point win over the Cougars?

Will BYU's main claim to fame be that it led Utah and Texas before losing? That's why on Friday, the Cougars critically need a win over TCU. Utah desperately needs to defeat a 2-5 OSU team that lost its opener to Sacramento State.

The Cougars have had a sad-sack series of late with the Frogs. They've been dominated. They've been taken to the shed even with the programs' winningest quarterback Max Hall, best tight end Dennis Pitta and career running back Harvey Unga.

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