I love playing in hostile environments and it doesn’t get any more hostile than this. —BYU quarterback Taysom Hill
SALT LAKE CITY — For BYU’s seniors, this is their last chance for a victory against Utah.
The Cougars have dropped five consecutive rivalry games against the Utes, and for them, nothing would be sweeter than to knock them off Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium — especially after a gut-wrenching defeat to Utah in last December’s Las Vegas Bowl.
“I want to win. This game means everything,” said senior wide receiver Mitchell Juergens. “The rivalry’s thick; it’s intense. Last year was hard coming away with a tough loss. We fought back and unfortunately came up short. Some time ran off the clock too early. Again, this game means everything. We’re preparing for it and we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”
In Las Vegas, the Utes jumped out to a 35-0 advantage in the first quarter after five consecutive BYU turnovers. The Cougars rallied to cut the deficit to 35-28 late in the fourth quarter, but BYU could get no closer.
That setback left a bad taste in the Cougars’ mouths throughout the offseason.
“It’s always tough coming away with a bowl game loss to start the offseason. But that just provides more motivation,” Juergens said. “All summer, we’ve had that loss in our minds. We don’t want that to happen again. It bit us in the butt, and we don’t want that to happen again. We feel confident in our game plan and how we’ve prepared. We know we can beat those guys.”
Senior quarterback Taysom Hill hasn’t faced Utah since the 2013 loss in Provo.
“It’s obviously a huge game. Last year, it was really difficult on me not being able to be a part of that game (in Las Vegas) and to feel the emotion of it and not be able to play was really difficult,” he said. “So as I looked forward to the game this week against Utah, I’m very excited. Last week all of our preparation and our mindset was on beating Arizona, and now all the attention will be on Utah. Nothing’s going to be different in our preparation against Utah. We obviously know what’s at stake. We respect Utah and their football team, and they’re obviously very skilled and it’ll be a good game.”
Though he’s a senior, Juergens has never played at Utah previously due to the interruption of the regular-season rivalry in 2014 and 2015.
“I’m excited. I’ve heard it’s loud,” Juergens said. “They have some crazy fans and that’s the stuff I live for. I love it. It drives me even more. The louder they get, it puts a smile on my face and makes the game that much more fun. I’m excited to go up there and see all that red and come away with a victory. That’s what we’re expecting.”
Said senior safety Kai Nacua: “I don’t plan on losing. Since I came here as a freshman, I’ve been 0-3 against them. I don’t plan on going 0-4.”
For Hill, playing in the rivalry game one last time was a factor in his decision to return to BYU for one more campaign after suffering a season-ending injury a year ago.
“This is what it’s all about,” he said. “As I was going through my decision-making process, these are the situations that you just cannot replicate, and I can’t wait to be a part of this football game. I love playing in hostile environments and it doesn’t get any more hostile than this.”
BYU (1-0) at Utah (1-0)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MDT Rice-Eccles Stadium; TV: Fox
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM