PROVO — Heading into Saturday's Rivalry Game against Utah, BYU is unbeaten and ranked No. 25 in the nation. The Cougars boast a senior quarterback, Riley Nelson, and a highly touted defense.
And they're looking to avenge last season's humiliating 54-10 defeat at home to the Utes.
Saturday's showdown is BYU's first real test of the season, and it's a chance to prove on a national stage that it belongs in the national rankings. A victory could springboard the Cougars to a memorable season.
However, BYU has lost seven of its last 10 games to the Utes, including two in a row.
The Cougars need a win to reach their goals and put last year's humiliating defeat in the past.
BYU freshman offensive lineman Ryker Mathews suffered an injury in fall camp a year ago and did not play in the 44-point loss.
"Watching that Utah game, it hurt me," Mathews recalled last week. "I'm excited about that game. I have dreams about that. It's going to be intense. I can't wait."
How do those dreams turn out?
"It goes great every time," he said. "It's exciting."
Here are three keys for BYU to avoid another nightmare against Utah:
Stop the run
The Cougar defense is No. 10 nationally in total defense and scoring defense, and No. 12 in rushing defense.
On Saturday, BYU faces Utah running back John White IV, who rushed for 174 yards on 22 carries and three touchdowns, including TD runs of 62 and 35 yards last season.
The Utes depend heavily on White's ground game, evidenced by the fact they are 9-0 when he runs for more than 100 yards. When he doesn't, Utah is 0-6.
BYU's defensive line, and linebacker Kyle Van Noy, will be looking to slow down White, and put pressure on Utah quarterbacks Jon Hays and Travis Wilson.
Run the ball
BYU rushed for only 11 yards last season against Utah.
Can the Cougars establish a ground attack against the Utes' formidable defensive line, including NFL prospect Star Lotulelei?
So far this season, BYU has had trouble running up the middle and it had to make adjustments on the offensive line after a season-opening win against Washington State.
Junior running back Michael Alisa is averaging 4.5 yards per carry this season. Mendenhall has hinted that Alisa's workload may increase this week.
And Nelson provides BYU with another dimension out of the backfield, with his ability to make plays with his feet.
Cut down on mistakes, particularly turnovers
Two years ago, BYU allowed a potential game-winning field goal to be blocked at the end of the game, resulting in a 17-16 loss. A year ago, the Cougars had seven turnovers, and they had six turnovers in a 48-24 setback at Utah in 2008.
BYU must avoid errors, and hold on to the ball, in order to beat the Utes.
"It is a big game, but we just can't make it bigger than it is, by mentally getting in a state where you become tight and start doing things that are uncharacteristic of you," said Nelson. "That's going to be the challenge for us — to stay cool, calm and collected and play our game in a hostile environment."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company