Jason Olson, Deseret News
Of all the individual match-ups in this year's BYU-Utah game, few, if any, loom as large as seniors Max Hall and Robert Johnson.
The Cougar quarterback and the Ute free safety have pivotal roles in Saturday's rivalry clash at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Hall leads the Mountain West Conference in passing yards (3,234), pass efficiency (167.2 rating) and total offense (299.4 yards per game).
Johnson, meanwhile, is the MWC's interceptions leader. He's picked off five passes this season — returning them for 139 yards and a touchdown.
A year ago, in Utah's 48-24 win over BYU in Salt Lake City, the two stars crossed paths. Johnson was one of four Utes to record an interception against Hall, who had a miserable outing with five picks and a lost fumble. He wound up completing just 21 of 42 passes for 205 yards.
"In last year's game our guys were very effective," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "It's all about players and our players really played well."
Certainly, he added, the Utes will draw upon that game plan again this time around.
Whittingham, however, acknowledged that everything is constantly evolving and circumstances are different each season.
One thing, though, never changes when preparing to face BYU.
"Obviously they're a very good throw team," Whittingham said. "They are every single year."
The Utes, he continued, need to play good defense — mix up coverages and get pressure on the quarterback. Whittingham said the latter is key, as is preventing Hall from getting into a rhythm.
In last year's game, Utah did a good job executing.
Joe Dale intercepted Hall twice, while Paul Kruger, Sean Smith and Johnson each had one. Koa Misi forced him to fumble and Kruger recovered it for the Utes.
"I think without the turnovers it's a completely different game," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said after the contest. "But I don't fault Max because of the leadership he's displayed all year. I just think he was trying to help his team win."
This season, Hall enters the regular-season finale against Utah with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He's coming off a stellar performance in last week's win over Air Force, completing 33-of-45 passes for 377 yards and five touchdowns.
Johnson, though, has a proven record against BYU. As a sophomore, he had a season-high 12 tackles and a pass breakup in the rivalry game.
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