Here are 10 factors that will bring victory to either Utah or BYU today in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Utes will win if:
1. Shaky Smithson breaks a few big returns and consistently gives the Ute offense short fields to begin their drives. Field position in this game will be everything and is an often overlooked factor.
2. Utah's defense limits BYU to under 100 yards rushing, significantly changing the play-calling and flexibility of Cougar offensive coordinator Robert Anae in executing his game plan. The Cougars are averaging 170 yards rushing a game and using three backs, who have had very good success against the league's dogs. This will place a greater responsibility on BYU freshman quarterback Jake Heaps' arm.
3. Utah's offensive line, underachieving against TCU and Notre Dame, can give Jordan Wynn time to pick his receivers in stride and on time. If he gets the time to find them and throw the ball, the Ute receivers' run-after-catch in space will significantly challenge BYU's secondary.
4. Utah successfully brings five- and six-man blitzes on Heaps, enabling them to have athletic coverage ability and force bad throws. Aside from a couple of game-winning passes against the Utes, Max Hall generally struggled against the Ute defense. Utah has blitzed BYU more than any other team over the years, and this time they'll go at it as they would against a rookie in a hostile arena.
5. Utah can break BYU's great success of late at stopping the opponents' running game and turn loose the Utes' own running back tandem of Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide. The Cougar defense will then be hard-pressed to protect the line and cover on the back end, leading to huge pass plays if BYU has to commit senior safety Andrew Rich closer to the line of scrimmage.
The Cougars will win if:
1. BYU can get three or four turnovers and take advantage of Utah's penchant for fumbles, interceptions, special team gaffes and slow starts, quieting the home crowd in TCU fashion. A tall order for sure.
2. BYU can establish a run game with J.J. Di Luigi, Bryan Kariya and Josh Quezada. The Cougars will then be able to deploy the same strategy that led to a win over San Diego State with clock control and an ability to keep Wynn and his talented receivers on the sideline.
3. BYU can manage Utah's blitz packages — many of which have been created specifically for this game. The Cougars will have to pull off a successful screen game and use of their tight ends, two items they've struggled to polish this season. Where Utah has blitzed about 80 times in previous seasons, about 55 have ended up against the Cougars. Heaps will have to battle through this and make Utah pay for aggressive play.
4. BYU continues its run of game-changing winning plays. In any close game — and this could follow recent tradition — a game can boil down to one or two huge plays. In this regard, the Cougars have had a run with the Beck-to-Harline TD pass as time expired, the Hall-to-Austin Collie pass on fourth-and-18, and last year's Andrew George touchdown catch-and-run in overtime. BYU will need a bushel of those plays today.
5. BYU rides the electricity of big plays and can get early Utah turnovers to forge a lead. The pattern for beating Utah, as shown by TCU and Notre Dame, is to establish momentum early and keep it.
This week's picks:
TCU 42, NEW MEXICO 0: Too bad the Lobos can't provide the Frogs a BCS point or two as they roll over and burn because TCU will need all the computer and poll love it can get to stay in the national title picture.
SAN DIEGO STATE 35, UNLV 10: The Aztecs gave away a victory last week with untimely interceptions and a fumbled punt snap against Utah. This won't get to that point today with the Rebels, who are anxiously awaiting the end of the season and those high-paying casino valet parking jobs.
UTAH 28, BYU 24: The pressure to win at home is on Utah, not visiting BYU. That may or may not account for something. In the end, Utah has a lot more to avenge in this rivalry after the way the last few have ended on heart-breaking plays made by BYU. Today's game will boil down to whose offensive line and QB turns in a superior performance and avoids turnovers. Edge goes to the Utes with their more experienced offense.
Last week's record: 2-2; overall season record: 58-14 (.805)