Editor's note: This is part two of a three-part series about the FBS matchups of the 2013 Beehive State college football season. Part one examined Utah vs. Utah State.
The BYU-Utah game, a matchup considered by some to be an underrated rivalry, has featured plenty of wild contests over the years, but the 2012 edition might have been the craziest yet.
The Utes just came off a loss to the Aggies in Logan, and the Cougars came to Rice-Eccles ranked inside the top 25. The highly vaunted Cougar defense was expected to keep the Utes in check, but Utah decided to fight fire with fire.
The Utes jumped out to a commanding 24-7 lead, which included a touchdown off a bad snap to Riley Nelson. But once the fourth quarter rolled around, the Cougars fought back viciously to cut the score deficit to three.
With mere seconds left on the clock during BYU’s final drive, the Utes blitzed Nelson, forcing him to throw the ball away. Many assumed the game was over and the Utes had won. The ecstatic crowd proceeded to rush the field. The officials then ruled one second was left on the game clock — enough time for a BYU field goal.
The kick was blocked. The student body rushed the field again. Flag on the field, unsportsmanlike conduct on Utah because of interfering fans. After the fans cleared off the field again, BYU's field goal unit moved forward 15 yards. Sorensen’s kick went up …
Boink! The crowd rushed the field for a THIRD time. Utes won in unbelievable fashion.
Strangely enough, both the Utes and the Cougars struggled repeatedly through the rest of the season, with both schools finishing well below expectations.
This year's kickoff to the big rivalry is only a few days away, so let's break down what we will see on the field and what we can expect.
Sam McConkie is a technical and professional writing graduate from Utah State University. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
BYU had arguably its best defense ever last season, ranking No. 3 nationally in total defense. But the Cougars' inconsistent offense plagued them along the way to an 8-5 finish last season, just the third time in the Bronco Mendenhall era the Cougars have finished below the 10-win mark.
Before the start of spring ball, Mendenhall explained where he sees his program and what he strives to accomplish: "I've self-imposed — no one has imposed it on me — that the minimum standard is a top 25 ranking. That's what I believe is supposed to happen at BYU. I think in five of the last seven years, we've done that. There's not many other teams that have. That's good. Better would be the top 10. Best is national champion.”
While plenty of starters from last season have returned, the Cougars must address some big question marks on offense and defense.
Taysom Hill returns to the starting role as quarterback after sustaining a season-ending injury in the Utah State game last October. Though Hill has only started four games including this season, he has enough experience and ability to lead the offense. Backup Ammon Olsen could see playing time as well.
Expect Hill to run first and throw second under Robert Anae’s new up-tempo offense. Aside from Hill, Jamaal Williams stands as a substantial rushing threat.
Cody Hoffman returns for his senior season as BYU’s primary receiving threat. Hoffman racked up more than 1,000 receiving yards last season and shouldn’t have a problem matching last year’s total as long as he can get open, though his play this season has thus far been limited because of a tweaked hamstring muscle. Ross Apo and JD Falslev are also expected to make major contributions as receivers.
On defense, linebacker Kyle Van Noy returns, and Van Noy can accurately say he scored more points in the Poinsettia Bowl against San Diego State than the entire Cougar offense did. He should be able to achieve on an extremely high level again this year with multiple pass breakups and quarterback hurries, though matching last year's total number of tackles and sacks could be difficult.
Though the cornerback position started out strong, the loss of Trent Trammel and Jordan Johnson to season-ending injuries has thinned out the secondary considerably. Slot receiver Eric Thornton has moved over to one of the spots to help shore it up.
BYU lost a great deal of production on its defense with the graduation of Brandon Ogletree, Romney Fuga and Ziggy Ansah, who is now playing for the Detroit Lions. Eathyn Manumaleuna, JUCO transfers Marques Johnson and Kalolo Utu and freshman Tuni Kanuch will round out the defense this year, along with Bronson Kaufusi, replacing Ansah.
Though it probably won’t be quite as strong a unit as last season, this Cougar defense should still suffocate its fair share of opponents.
On the offensive side of the ball, Riley Nelson has graduated. A controversial quarterback, he often stayed on the field and managed to sustain some good drives. Though there is no question Hill is the starter, he must stay healthy. Otherwise, it could be a long game against the relentless Utah defense.
As for the offensive line, the unit has essentially started over from last season. Manaaki Vaitai and Michael Yeck are two of the primary starters on the line. Along with them, potential starters include Josh Carter, Edward Fusi, Tim Duran and De'Ondre Wesley. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae has shifted the line around a bit since the Virginia loss, though, so this could change again.
After a disappointing 5-7 finish last season, including only 3-6 in conference games, Utah has plenty to prove in this matchup against the Cougars. The series will be taking a two-year break, resuming in 2016 at Utah, which means the winner gets bragging rights for longer than usual.
A few starters return for the now-reinvigorated Utes, who have started their season at 2-1, but there are plenty of questions for head coach Kyle Whittingham to solve. Keep an eye on a few key players.
Travis Wilson, now with a bit more experience and finesse, returns as the Utes' starting quarterback. Backups Adam Schulz and Brandon Cox may see snaps, but Wilson has done extremely well in the first few games of the season and should get the majority of play time. Expect him to air out the ball plenty and throw in some runs. Despite the interceptions thrown against Oregon State, he kept the Utes in the game with some great runs and passes.
Wide receiver Dres Anderson also returns. Kenneth Scott is out for the season due to a severe lower leg injury, so Sean Fitzgerald is has taken his place. Members of the receiving corps have emphasized the importance of hauling in the ball and racking up large yardage this season. The play from these receivers could determine the outcome of the game.
Defensively, Trevor Reilly, Tenny Palepoi and Nate Orchard will continue to anchor the line with Jason Whittingham. The Utes traditionally have solid defenses, and this year has proven no different. They only allowed Weber State to cross the 50-yard line twice, and even in the overtime loss to Oregon State, there were some impressive moments.
Without question, replacing NFL first-round draft pick Star Lotulelei has been tough. Teams game-planned around him, and his herculean strength allowed him to stop runners dead in their tracks. Credit Tenny Palepoi for filling in the gap at defensive tackle. He should be able to disrupt BYU’s run game with a fair degree of success.
Brothers Joe and Dave Kruger are also out and about in the NFL. Their production will be sorely missed if good replacements don't step up and fill their shoes, but so far this hasn’t been a big issue.
John White racked up more than 1,000 yards rushing last season, and he was the first Utah running back ever to put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Kelvin York thus far has been adequate, and Karl Williams has gotten some great looks, too, but the "Wolfman" will be missed if neither player steps up against the Cougars.
Expect the unexpected. This game is almost always a nail-biter that comes down to whoever has the ball last. Judging from how both teams have been shaping up this season, another thriller certainly isn’t out of the question.
The Cougars have been hungry for a rivalry win over the Utes for quite some time, having lost the previous three contests. For Utah, what better way to stick it to its rival by following up the 54-10 drubbing in LaVell Edwards Stadium two years ago with another victory in the same venue? The loss to the Beavers in particular could give the Utes some extra motivation to bounce back in a big way.
Both teams will be extremely motivated to win this one and emotions will be running hot on both sides of the ball. Can the Utes further cement their recent domination in the series, or will the Cougars obtain bragging rights for the next three years?