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BYU, Utah football: Close game expected on Saturday

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 6:24 a.m. MDT

PROVO — Is there another rivalry in the country that has been as close as BYU-Utah over the last 10 to 15 years?
In the past 10 meetings, the series is tied, 5-5. Since 2000, it's knotted at four wins apiece. Since 1988, the series is tied 10-10.
What's more, 12 of the last 15 meetings, and 10 of the last 11, have been decided by a touchdown or less. In the last three games, the outcome hasn't been decided until the final play.
In the last two contests, BYU has made memorable plays to vanquish the Utes — John Beck's pass to Jonny Harline in the end zone as time expired in 2006 and Max Hall's 49-yard completion to Austin Collie on fourth-and-18 that led to the game-winning touchdown in 2007.
"There's going to be plays like that on Saturday," Hall said. "Hopefully those plays will be on our side."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said being able to make big plays at the end of a close rivalry game has to do with handling the emotions of the game, staying poised and being able to execute.
"There's no way to predict how the game will come out. The last three, as we know, have been very close," Mendenhall said. "But, really, each year takes on its own identity. I'm not sure the past has much to do with this. This is two different teams, two different dynamics and a different set of circumstances.
"I think both teams will try as hard as they can try. If they can handle the emotion, they'll play well. The team that gets caught up in it will be more erratic, and that might cost a victory."
The last time this showdown was a blowout was in 2004, when Utah was gunning for a Bowl Championship Series berth, just as the Utes are this time.

Lessons learned

BYU has won 22 of its last 23 Mountain West Conference games, with the only loss coming against TCU back in October. There are plenty of comparisons between the Horned Frogs' defense and Utah's, including their team speed.
Hall said the Cougars' offense has learned from that bitter setback at TCU.
"Early in the game, I made some mistakes," he said. "I had a fumble and they scored quick. We started pressing and throwing the ball downfield and doing some things that we don't normally do. TCU had a good defense and they were fast. We weren't able to do that.
"We have to stay with who we are and establish the run game. Harvey (Unga) and our offensive line have to have a big game. Austin (Collie) and Dennis (Pitta) need to have big games again. We have to make sure we're all on the same page."

On 'the quest'

Before the season, Mendenhall made "Quest for Perfection" the team motto for the season. He doesn't regret the decision.
"To say there was not extra pressure on them because of it, I think they all felt that. It took on a life of its own. From the very first time we presented it, I instantly had to explain what I meant. Even though inside the program we knew what I was talking about, it wasn't embraced by the world perspective, who just related it to football," he said.
"Our program has never only been about football. I possibly could have been wiser whereas to assume and assess where the world is and what our intent was. ('The Quest for Perfection') does have a dual meaning, but it's more about who we're trying to become. To say it didn't add pressure, I think it probably did."


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com

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