Dick Harmon: Quarterback play key in deciding latest BYU-Utah matchup

Published: Friday, Sept. 14 2012 9:01 p.m. MDT

The biggest factor in Saturday's BYU-Utah game?

Choose any argument you want. History says it will be close, hard-fought, emotional and entertaining. History also tells us that turnovers usually dictate both the victor and the score.

So, who is going to win?

The Cougars are favored by three or four points, according to a myriad of folks in Las Vegas. Not if they have seven turnovers again, not a chance.

Defenses will rule in this game. It will be tough to establish the run. Very tough.

Both Utah and BYU have young, inexperienced offensive lines. They'll have big challenges all game long.

Both quarterbacks, whomever coaches decide to start, may not be safe and be the same ones that stand at the end. Both sides will see their QBs sacked. They will also get hit frequently and could get mowed down if caught holding on to the ball too long. They will be chased and they'll be challenged.

Utah's defensive front four, is one for the ages, some say. Other observers believe BYU's front seven and secondary may be the quickest and deepest in more than a decade.

Third down conversions will play a huge role in Saturday's game. It is crucial for each offense to get in third-and-3 or third-and-2 and the one that does will have the advantage. Next to turnovers, converting on third-and-whatever looms huge.

Both Kyle Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall need quick starts. Miscues, turnovers, penalties, going three-and-out early and often is a practice both want to avoid.

Whittingham's staff last played on a Friday, which gave an entire weekend to jump on BYU designs.

The Cougars played Weber State last Saturday and got in some work on Utah Saturday night. The staff does not have organized meetings on Sunday or any mandatory staff appearances at the office on that day.

By my count, the Utes have had more time to prepare, break down film, and invest it in a myriad of ways. BYU may have done some Utah cutouts before Weber State, but physically can not have utilized the same amount of preparation time as Utah.

Will it matter? It could, if the plan is good one and executed.

Mendenhall might counter the time element with efficiency in meetings and practice with a seasoned team, one that counts 29 seniors.

And that could be a factor — if they execute.

No question Rice-Eccles Stadium will be rocking and that is an emotional advantage for the Utes. Also, Whittingham is pretty good when his back is to the wall.

BYU? It is hard to remember a Cougar team that is more eager, hoping to erase the 54-10 shellacking witnessed in Provo a year ago at the hand of their rivals. Privately, it has simmered all year.

But even that doesn't amount to beans if not backed up by play.

Jordan Wynn is done. Riley Nelson may not be a hundred percent (back) and James Lark may see some drama time for the Cougars.

Quarterback play is perhaps the biggest single X-factor you can draw up, if you are handicapping this game.

Here are this week's predictions after short-selling the Pac-12 last week in big wins over Illinois, Oklahoma State and Nebraska:

Ohio State 37, California 10: This one is in the Horseshoe and the Bears are a long ways from home and from being a factor in this intersectional game.

Tennessee 34, Florida 27: The Vols have had their ups and downs since Lane Kiffin left town but it appears the talent has returned, trained well and will definitely zero in on the Gators.

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