PROVO — Charles Kano, senior writer for truebluecougars.com, spoke with University of Utah insiders Kyle Gunther, on-air host of "The Red and Blue Show" on 97.5 and 1280 The Zone, and James (Deuce) Dyer from the "Dog and Deuce" podcast on TornBySports.com. We asked them a series of questions to help Cougar fans get some insider views on University of Utah football in anticipation for the Utah-BYU game in Provo this weekend.
What is the buzz around Ute camp and the campus about the matchup against BYU?
Gunther: The Utes see this as a unique matchup because it is being played week 3 instead of the end of the year with a conference championship on the line. Most of the Ute players are viewing this as just another non-conference game, but also see is as part of a storied rivalry which typically goes to the wire. The players are also excited to play in Lavell Edwards Stadium because they have had quite a bit of success on the road there.
Dyer: There is a different vibe on campus surrounding this game, but it is not necessarily related to playing BYU. BYU this year is really just another non-conference team. There isn’t the feel of playing for a conference championship or keeping your rival from winning it either.
First year in the Pac-12, what are Ute fans' expectations for the season?
Gunther: Most Ute fans are pretty understanding of the long-term goal, which is to win, but build the program up over the next few years and then compete for a conference championship. There are some Ute fans that have drum and feather tattooed on their arm that aren’t realistic and want to win all their games and the conference championship right now. I think eight or nine wins would mean a tremendous season for the Utes.
Dyer: Most Ute fans have high expectations of nine to ten wins and being in the running to win the Pac-12 South. Before the season I said 7-5 to 8-4, and after a few games now and watching how other teams have been playing I think I will stick to that prediction.
Has the rivalry changed now that Utah is in a BCS conference and BYU is independent?
Gunther: I think they see this as just another non-conference game. The Utes will not look down on an independent BYU team, but there just isn’t the same buildup to the game as there is when they play at the end of the regular season. I think BYU will be playing harder because they want to prove that they should have been the ones that were invited to the Pac-12. Utah will play harder to prove they were the right choice.
Dyer: The rivalry game has changed, and it’s disappointing. I think the game should go on forever. Here, after a few years it might end and never be played again. The thing is, even if you had a bad season, if you beat BYU it felt better and at least you had bragging rights in-state for the year.
Does playing the game so early in the season change the importance of the rivalry?
Gunther: I think you will see the same passion from the fans. I am interested to see how the mentality and level of play from the Ute players, given this is being played at such an awkward time and not as the natural culmination of the season ending in rivalry week. I think if you don’t play this at the end of the season, play it week 1 as the kickoff to the season instead of week 3.
Dyer: It’s awkward, and I don’t think coaches or players from either team know how to address it. This game used to be the climax, and now it is just game 3. Once the ball is in the air, who knows how the players will respond.
Both Coach Whittingham and Coach Mendenhall have called for more civility in the rivalry. Do you see that happening?
Gunther: I hope not. It’s a rivalry game, for heaven's sake. I understand that players need to keep things under control during the game, but there is no need to tell adults in the stands how to act. No one cares about the score from a Colorado State or San Diego State game, but everyone remembers the rivalry game. They remember the big plays and the score every year.
Dyer: I hope so. We talk about this on our show and a lot of the stuff that happens at Rice-Eccles is uncalled for and inappropriate. I call on Utah fans to make this rivalry game a lot better. There will always be the one guy that ruins it for everyone on both sides.
What is your most memorable rivalry moment?
Gunther: Unfortunately, both years that I played down there in Provo we lost. But I remember in 2007 in the 4th and 19 game, the fans gave me the business in the politest way possible. One little kid kept saying, "Hey Ute, you stink." And I was like, "Yeah, I do. I am playing football and sweating." Another guy leaned over the railing and said, "Nice beer gut, Gunther." He called me by name. We had some incredible games in Lavell Edwards Stadium, but my favorite memories are of the incredibly kind grief I got from the fans.
Dyer: There have been a lot of memories, both good and bad. I would have to say last year was is the most memorable because it is so recent. The team was really down and just seemed like the air had gone out, and then Burton blocked that kick and it was just an amazing finish.
BYU fans see Rice-Eccles Stadium as a hostile place to play. Do Ute fans feel the same way about Lavell Edwards Stadium?
Gunther: Lavell Edwards Stadium is a hostile place to play because of how loud it gets. I would rank it up there as one of the three loudest places I have ever played. It is not hostile in terms of the fans because they are so dang nice. It is really creepy when some old guy greets you at the entrance to the stadium, shakes your hand and wishes you good luck against his team. It’s also awkward because they have no caffeine in that place. If I don’t get my coffee in the morning I can get pretty hostile. Maybe that is what they need at Lavell Edwards Stadium to make their fans hostile.
Dyer: I think you get a mixed perspective. It certainly is a tough place to play football because the fans are really loud. I have not been to any games at Lavell Edwards Stadium except for the rivalry games, but I have to think the place is a little louder when the crimson and cream come to town. From a visiting fan perspective, most BYU fans are pretty nice, but I hate that me being loud and cheering for my team is taken as a personal insult to BYU fans.
Does the routine change in Ute camp for the game against BYU?
Gunther: The routine changes in very minor ways. Usually during any given week at Utah the TVs show whatever sporting events are on ESPN. During rivalry week Coach Whittingham plays a highlight reel of all the great Utah plays in the rivalry game from the past. Players like Kautai Olevao blowing up Ronnie Jenkins or Paul Kruger picking off Max Hall; I think he is still open.
Urban Meyer was really out there when he was at Utah putting Cosmo the Cougar pictures in the urinals and putting BYU jerseys by the door for us to walk over when we left the building. Coach Whittingham has been much classier in how he manages that.
Dyer: Ute fans are not as amped for this one. We were up at the press conference today and it seems like the Utes are playing this game down. BYU fans in contrast seem excited about the game. One thing is for certain: It doesn’t have a typical rivalry feel. There just isn’t the passion there.
What has been learned about this Utah team after their first Pac-12?
Gunther: I think we have learned that Utah has some playmakers emerging and that their defense is very much as good as we thought they would be, especially at stopping the run. I think Utah has the athletes and can compete in the Pac-12, I just think they are not deep enough yet. I think they are just a few good recruiting classes away.
Dyer: We learned that we can hang defensively with top Pac-12 teams. Utah safeties were good and corners were solid. On offense, the wide receivers really stepped up against the NFL-caliber corners at USC. DaVonte Christopher and Dres Anderson really took it to USC in that game.
What is the Utes' biggest strength coming into the game?
Gunther: Defense. The defensive line is tremendous, and Brian Blechen at linebacker is just fun to watch. I hope Blechen inspires an entire generation of kids to grow mohawks and play football.
I think early on the Utah offense will go 3 and out and the defense will really need to step it up and keep them in the game.
Dyer: Defense. I would be afraid to see where the Utes would be without their defense this year.
What is the Utes' biggest perceived weakness?
Gunther: Jordan Wynn’s throwing motion. There are some times when we see the arm strength and we know he is healthy, but maybe not fully recovered from the off-season surgery. Some guys get stronger after surgery and some don’t. Wynn seems to just be fatigued right now.
Dyer: Jordan Wynn. If you just look at his stats in the box score you think, "I can live with those numbers." If you watch the game, you see that it is the receivers making spectacular plays to get those numbers. Also, there is some concern with the injury to John White. I am not sure if Utah will be able to move the ball, because we saw in the USC game that Harvey Langi was just not ready.
Who are the Utes’ playmakers and team leaders?
Gunther: DaVonte Christopher has been a great talent the entire time he has been at Utah, but he has been inconsistent. I think 11 receptions for 136 yards against USC’s defense qualifies you as a playmaker. Dres Anderson has been outstanding in practice and is another player that will be an emerging playmaker for the Utes’ offense.
Dyer: Jordan Wynn has the C on his jersey as the captain, but I think the receivers are the ones pushing the offense. Defensively, Brian Blechen and Chaz Walker are always out there encouraging their teammates.
What are the keys to the game for Utah to be successful?
Gunther: John White can’t get injured. We saw how White going out changed the game against USC. Defense needs to lean on the BYU offensive line that has not lived up to the preseason hype. BYU’s line does really well in the beginning but fades as the game goes on. The defense also needs to not get discouraged, because Heaps and Apo will score on them early. If the Utes can just keep after it they should be fine because the offensive line at BYU isn’t as good in the second half, and we have seen that twice now.
Dyer: Utah needs to do the little things right, limiting mistakes and penalties. I think if they can run the ball effectively they can be successful.
Who do you think wins and give us a score?
Gunther: I think this game will be close, and I will never pick a blowout in the rivalry game. I think Utah has better offensive and defensive lines, so I will say 24-21 Utah. I will also predict that six BYU fans will have beer poured on them by obnoxious Ute fans.
Dyer: Before game 1, I had BYU winning this game 24-17. But the Ute defense has proven to be very opportunistic. I will take Utah 24-21.
Who do you think will be the game MVP?
Gunther: Ryan Lacy, the Utah corner. I could see him baiting Heaps into giving up a pick later in the game just when Utah needs it.
Dyer: It has to be someone from the defense. I think from what we have seen I would go with Brian Blechen. Look for him to be flying around causing mayhem and forcing turnovers, something that might make the difference in a close game.
Anything else BYU fans should know?
Gunther: We want to invite all the fans to the Red and Blue Rivalry Classic at Jordan High School on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m. This is a flag football game between former Ute and Cougar greats, and all the proceeds go The Road Home. Ironically, every year the team that wins the charity game has their team lose on Saturday, so look for my team to throw the game this year.
Dyer: If I am a BYU fan, I worry that in the last two rivalry games Utah has been able to put up big numbers in the fourth quarter, and that seems like that can be an issue for BYU this year.
Charles Kano is a senior writer for truebluecougars.com, a Deseret News partner. He is an avid sports fan with a particular interest in high school and college athletics.
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