SALT LAKE CITY — Utah safety Brian Blechen is eagerly awaiting his first rivalry game against BYU. As a true freshman from California, he's yet to experience its intensity and passion.
That will change Saturday when the Utes and Cougars tangle at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"I've heard it's going to be a huge game and tensions are going to be high," Blechen said. "There's a lot of emotion between the two teams. So it's going to be exciting."
Blechen's teammates have told him there's nothing like it. The stories and traditions behind the big game, he added, heighten the anticipation.
"So it's finally here and I'm just really excited to actually be a part of it and see what it's like," Blechen said.
BYU also has a prominent newcomer who will be introduced to the rivalry.
Quarterback Jake Heaps is another true freshman in a pivotal position the first time around.
"It's going to be a fun one," Heaps said. "It's going to be a great atmosphere playing at Utah. They have a great crowd."
Heaps is anticipating an even more hostile environment than the one Cougars faced against Utah State in Logan earlier this season.
"With the rivalry that BYU and Utah have, it's a whole other level. It's going to be a lot of fun. Those games are the best," Heaps said. "Not only do you have something to play for, something meaningful to play for, but you also have that grudge against each other."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged that it's an "eye-opener" for all players new to the rivalry.
Even so, the Utes aren't counting on Heaps to stand around all amazed.
"I don't consider him a true freshman any more. He's had plenty of plays and starts under his belt," said Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake "You look at the success they've had in the past few weeks, a lot of it is because of what he's done with their offense. He's managing the ball real well."
Sitake compared Heaps' development to that of Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, who also played in the game as a true freshman.
"He's got a lot of good athletic ability and he can throw the ball. He's real smart, so it's a huge challenge," Sitake said. "But we're not thinking that just because he's a true freshman that we can come in there and rattle him. That's just not the way to approach it. I think our thing is to play assignment-sound football."
Besides Heaps, BYU is using several other true freshmen this season including linebackers Zac Stout and Kyle Van Noy, running back Joshua Quezada and defensive end Graham Rowley. Tight end Devin Mahina, a returned missionary, is also a first-year freshman.
Utah has a pair of returned missionaries playing their first year of college ball as well — defensive back Mike Honeycutt and tight end Westlee Tonga.
Defensive back Wykie Freeman, defensive end Joe Kruger and defensive back Michael Walker join Blechen as the Utes' other true freshmen to see action this year.
Contributing: Jeff Call