I’m pumped. I’ve grown up a huge BYU fan my whole life. I grew up watching the BYU-Utah game, so to be able to play in one is pretty special. —BYU QB Tanner Mangum
PROVO — As a 13-year-old kid, Tanner Mangum sat in the stands at Rice-Eccles Stadium for his first BYU-Utah game in 2006.
He watched quarterback John Beck throw that unforgettable, game-winning touchdown pass to Jonny Harline after time had expired for a heart-stopping 33-31 Cougar victory.
That experience left an indelible impression on Mangum.
“I was with my siblings in Cougar blue,” Mangum recalled recently. “It was a really close game and when it ended like that, we were the only ones cheering and everyone else was deflated. That was a crazy game, a fun moment. One I’ll definitely remember.”
Nine years later, Mangum, a freshman and BYU’s starting quarterback, has an opportunity to write his own chapter of rivalry history when the Cougars collide with the Utes Saturday (1:30 p.m., MST, ABC) in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
For Mangum, it marks his first bowl game and his first rivalry game — all in one.
“I’m pumped. I’ve grown up a huge BYU fan my whole life. I grew up watching the BYU-Utah game, so to be able to play in one is pretty special,” Mangum said. “It’s exciting to be able to do it in a bowl setting. We’ve never done that. But mentally, as far as preparation and practice, it’s still the same. It’s just another game as far as that’s concerned. It’s all about us and how we execute.”
That Beck-to-Harline pass snapped a four-game losing streak to Utah. On Saturday, Mangum will be trying to end another four-game losing streak to the Utes.
John Beck, who orchestrated that dramatic win over Utah in 2006, knows all about playing in the BYU-Utah game. What advice does he have for Mangum?
“Cherish the opportunity to play in rivalry games, because you’re only going to play in a few of them," the former Cougar quarterback told the Deseret News. "If he stays healthy, he’s going to play in 40-something games and just a few rivalry games. You need to enjoy the moment and play the same ball you’ve been playing all year. You don’t have to do anything different, especially at the quarterback position. Understand that the defenses will be more excited, the teams will be a little more chippy in the way they mouth off to each other. Pre-game has a different feel because it is a rivalry game.”
Playing in the BYU-Utah game for the first time is special, Beck added.
“If you haven’t played in it before, the first time, you feel it. It feels different. But at the same time, you have the pass attempts you make in the rivalry game are no different from the pass attempts you made all season. Just go play football.”
Brandon Doman, who quarterbacked BYU to two victories over Utah in 2000 and 2001, shared some advice with Beck when Doman was the Cougars’ QB coach.
“Brandon Doman made one of the best comments I believe about rivalry games,” Beck said. “He said, ‘The only way I know how to beat Utah is at the end of games, in a close game. That’s all I know.’ Since 2000, what’s the only way BYU has beaten Utah? It’s in close games. It feels good to stomp your rival, but it feels really good to be part of a win that everyone remembers. My advice to Tanner is to expect the game to be close.”
Mangum’s older brother, Parker Mangum, a former BYU player, knows how much Tanner is looking forward to this game.
“Tanner knows he needs to take this game one play at a time. But you’d be stupid not to recognize that this is a rivalry game and there’s more meaning going into this game, especially with it being coach Mendenhall’s final game and it could be his 100th win,” Parker Mangum explained. “When Tanner signed with BYU, we were scheduled to play Utah every year. When we found out that wasn’t going to happen, Tanner was pretty upset and disappointed about that because of the long tradition. Now he has the chance to play Utah every year. This is a historic meeting. BYU and Utah have never met in a bowl game before and it probably won’t happen again. Tanner never lets the moment get bigger than it should. Sure, he’ll throw a bad pass or a pick or a fumble. He’ll move on to the next play. He’s good at managing the situation at hand. You have to take it one completion at a time.”
Mangum’s teammates aren’t worried about his ability to lead them into the bowl game, and a rivalry game, as a freshman.
“He’s all about poise, he’s not a guy you necessarily need to mentor in that way,” said wide receiver Mitch Mathews. “He knows what this is about. This rivalry is kind of rooted in him. It’s a perfect team to play. He’ll be good to go.”
“Tanner’s amazing as a freshman. He’s mature,” said tight end Remington Peck. “It’s cool to see where (Taysom Hill's) leadership was and there really hasn’t been much of a dro off. I don’t think a lot of people expected that. I didn’t expect that coming from a freshman. He gained the respect of everyone around him. He’s a great leader.”
And the Cougars are hoping Mangum, like Beck, can help lead them to a big win over Utah.