Cougar Insiders Dick Harmon and Jeff Call join Ute Insiders Dirk Facer and Amy Donaldson to talk shop heading into this week’s Big Game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. What do the Utes and Cougars need to do to prevail? What are the most intriguing storylines? How do the two teams measure up on offense, defense, special teams? What are the X-factors? And finally, does the rivalry game possess the same luster as in years gone by? This and more on this special Rivalry Week Insiders edition.
Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.
Dick Harmon: Welcome to this edition of the Cougar Insiders podcast — you're supposed to say, no this is a Ute Insiders podcast.
Dirk Facer: Yeah it's our little crossover. I'm Dirk Facer with the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast. So we have a special edition, we're all four of us, Amy Donaldson, Jeff Call, Dick and I are here and we're going to be talking a lot about the rivalry week.
DH: We've got history, we've got matchups, we've got about everything you can imagine and you can find this podcast on the internet wherever you find podcasts, go to the Apple store, you can also email us at least on our site, it's Cougarinsiders at Deseret News. com.
DF: Uteinsi[email protected] We have one too. We've yet to get a response but we're waiting.
DH: If you feel like it, if you're just really ticked off, if you really want to get into it, if you got some feedback, drop us an email.
Amy Donaldson: Question, if there's something you want us to cover, right? We want to help you. We'll ask any question.
DF: Soliciting more work, I love it.
DH: It's good to have Amy here. It's always good to see you, Amy, we don't see enough of you down in Utah County. Jeff, we always see you. You do a great job. You just got back from a basketball game? Right?
Jeff Call: When are you talking about? This last week? I was in Boston, I was in Reno, I was in Boise.
DH: You've been all over town. And Dirk, you just got back from the coldest place on Earth. You slept with the polar bears down there.
DF: It was cold in Boulder, Colorado, a little snowy.
AD: I didn't see any pictures of you with your shirt off like the Utes. All the Utes were out there warming up with no shirts. I was waiting for your photo.
DF: I'm probably one of those guys when I take my shirt off, it still looks like I'm wearing a shirt. We'll leave it at that.
DH: Let's get right down to it. We're going to talk about three things that BYU needs to do to defeat Utah. Man, that's a hard one to come up with, Jeff Call. What are your three?
JC: Well it seems like the last time that BYU beat Utah I was in my 20s or something like that. It's been a long time. As I look at the matchup. I mean, I cannot honestly see one area where BYU has an advantage over Utah, to be honest, by position. But if you look at this game, I think it comes down to one game. It's the rivalry game and a few things that I think BYU has to do to win this game, if they're going to pull it off this upset. No. 1, they've got to start fast. Something that they have not done. So I'm not counting on them doing that, but that's imperative that they get off to a good start.
DH: Dirk says the Utes have been kind of slow starters too.
DF: Maybe we'll have a boring first half.
JC: Might be a halftime scoreless game. But one of the things that we've seen in this rivalry, especially the last several years, is turnovers have been such a huge factor in this game. On both sides, especially with BYU, and they can't afford to turn the ball over and make those kind of mistakes. If you look at BYU this year, the games they've won, they've been able to run the ball. The games they've lost they haven't been able to run the ball and we all know that Utah, that's their bread and butter is stopping the run so it's gonna be very difficult and BYU's going to be throwing a few guys at Utah in the run game — from Matt Hadley to Lopini Katoa. We don't know about Squally Canada's status, he may or may not play, but we'll see if they can establish any sort of semblance of a run. The one thing for BYU, I kind of The X-factor is Zach Wilson. His ability to make plays with his feet was an element they didn't have with Tanner Mangum. So we'll see what he can do. Maybe making some plays, extending some plays.
DH: Are we supposed to ask this of Amy and Dirk? Let's ask them. If you think BYU is going to pull this off, Dirk and then Amy. If you think that you're going to see something that you haven't seen in seven, eight years or whatever it's been, what would it need to be for the Cougars to do?
DF: Well, you know, running the ball is obviously going to be a key but that's Utah strength. Especially this year with Utah's defense Chase Hansen and Cody Barton at linebacker position. They've just been fantastic going all over the field making plays. But it all begins up front with that pressure. You've got Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae and guys like that. They're going to try to get to Wilson, obviously, to put a lot of pressure and that's where it all starts. And then Utah has a really good secondary as well, Jaylon Johnson at cornerback, so Wilson's got to be really careful with his throws because he's going to feel pressure up front, got those good guys in the middle, and then you got Jaylon Johnson and the defensive backs that are really talented as well.
DH: Amy, Utah's defense is pretty scary. Can BYU pull this off? And if they can, what's it going to be?
AD: So before the season I predicted this might be the year that BYU actually won the rivalry game, and then they struggled with teams that they shouldn't have struggled with. And so I don't think that they can do it, but that's why we play the games, and Utah's turned the ball over this year. Now I will say Jason Shelley doesn't have any interceptions. I don't believe he has a fumble either.
DF: He has one at ASU.
AD: But that was not in a start, I guess. What does Zach have, two? So I think Utah's defensive line is just significantly better than BYU's offensive line and so I think that's going to be where it starts. Utah's offensive line has been less consistent than the defensive line, so there's a chance that BYU's defense could maybe lead out as far as maybe the upset, but that's where I think it would come from. I think it's going to come down to BYU's defense and what they're able to do against Utah's offense and I don't think their offense can beat Utah's defense.
DH: I would agree with you, Amy. But BYU's defense is pretty good. It's ranked the top 22 or 23 in the country in total defense right now, but I agree with what you guys have said. I have one thing that I've always said this whole season, the last few seasons, that is the one big difference for BYU in wins over Utah and wins over anybody has been quarterback play. When BYU puts on the field a quarterback with a lot of finesse plays that can overcome all the advantages that other teams have in speed and size and scale and other things like that, when they have that quarterback that can make those plays it's the big difference, it's the X-factor. I don't know the Zach Wilson in freshman year, in his third or fourth start can do that and pull that off. But that's probably the only way I can see BYU winning is if he had kind of a career day. He's had six touchdown passes, he'd need to have three or four of them. The other thing I'd say is Utah scores 21 points, 24 points, they win the game.
AD: You're correct about the past, but this is the best secondary defense Utah's ever had that I've witnessed, since I've been covering.
DH: Washington State, last play, Amy, what happened? How long did they go for?
AD: I know but I think they've made some adjustments, I think guys are smarter, they're more experienced, I think that's where having even a top-notch quarterback is not gonna — that's not going to be the case this year. I really think it's going to come down to BYU's defense.
DH: I would agree with you. I think Utah's secondary is probably the best I've ever seen.
DF: Yeah they're pretty good. Now let's switch gears maybe and look at three things the Utes will need to do to defeat the Cougars. Amy, I know you have some thoughts. I think one thing — BYU's run defense is pretty good, as you guys mentioned, and Utah, obviously, losing Zack Moss and going with Armand Shyne, they need to establish the run game. Obviously that opens things up. So I think one of the key factors for Utah is they have to be able to run the ball, even though that's a strength of BYU's. If it gets into a throwing game, especially with the weather, guys, I understand snow's in the forecast. Utah threw it well in the snow last week, but you know it all begins with the run.
AD: Yeah. I mean, if you've listened to this podcast, this is my drum I beat constantly for Utah. They don't play well when they don't run well. So if BYU can stop their running game, then I think there could be a possibility for them to pull off an upset. The other thing is, I think that Utah has shot themselves sometimes with penalties and with turnovers. So I think the turnover game — I think it's critical in any football game, but for some reason this rivalry seems to — maybe guys try to do a teeny bit more or they push a little harder and that ends up costing them. So we'll see what happens on that.
DF: Dick and Jeff, maybe you go into this, I had no idea until I looked at the stats here that BYU is only giving up 127 yards a game on the ground. Do you guys see that as a big issue here, especially with the weather being a wild card, who knows how heavy the snow is going to fall if it falls at all. You never know if these guys are right or not. But really the ground game's where it needs to happen.
DH: You know I think you're right. They played two pretty weak opponents and played very well on defense and really kind of shut them down, but something happened at the end of the UMass game. Corbin Kaufusi, who actually got injured and banged up with his ankle against Utah State a long, long time ago, he's now injured, gone for the season, he's a utility player that played middle linebacker, he's played dropping back, outside linebacker, he's been the best sack guy that they had. 6-foot-9, 280 pounds, he has been a real big difference maker. And Jeff Call, he won't be on the field there, I think that's huge for Utah.
JC: Yeah that's a huge loss. And we didn't find out about his status until just before that New Mexico State game. Came out on senior night with that boot and that was a huge blow because he is a leader on that team and he's really proven this year to be a guy that could be an NFL guy so losing him is going to be a big blow.
DH: I think of another factor for the Utes is Matt Gay. Let's face it, they cross the 50-yard line, if it's a close game, even if it's not a close game, if they need some points, Matt Gay seems to be able to hit it from the stadium into the lake. And he'll do that consistently. I think it's a huge, huge X-factor for them.
DF: I agree with you. That was gonna be my X-factor as well. One time he hit 21 consecutive field goals, you know, Lou Groza award winner, trying to repeat, he got off to kind of a slow start, had some blocks earlier in the season. He's coming on strong and like you said, you know, the Utes would rather get seven points on the board. But Matt Gay is almost an insurance policy from 55 yards in that they'll put at least three points on the board. Amy, what do you think?
AD: I mean, you said it. If you get across midfield, which most offenses can on a bad day, you have a chance to put up some points on the board. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, because Utah has struggled in the red zone, so whenever your kicker gets too much attention, it's never a good thing.
DF: And I would say another thing the Utes need to do to be able to prevail in this game, Jason Shelley needs to play well and he needs to stay healthy. The fact is that they're thin at quarterback now, is a factor too. Shelley needs to be protected and I think that's an X-factor.
AD: I don't want to see Shelley get hurt, let me just say that.
DH: If Shelley did get hurt, you hope he doesn't, but Utah's the kind of team that can win this on defense and Matt Gay just kicks a field goal and you win three to nothing. It could be that if you play without a quarterback.
DF: There was a game like that many, many years ago on a very cold day in Provo, if I remember, right.
DH: We saw that before when they were on their fourth-string quarterback, back when Urban Meyer went down to Provo, remember that, Amy?
AD: Yes I do. I just think that if it comes down to kicking it's going to be because it's a bad game. That's just my opinion. And not a game fans would enjoy.
DH: That kind of leads into the next segment, guys. What is the most intriguing storyline of this game coming up this Saturday? The kind of seasons they've had, kind of what's going on in that, to me, I think it's these two freshmen quarterbacks. I mean they could have disasters on the field or they could come out and be heroes, but both of them haven't had lot of experience but they're going head-to-head, two freshmen. Shelley is a freshman, isn't he right? He's a redshirt freshman, Zach's a true freshman even though he came to BYU in January. But Amy, let's hear from you. What's your most interesting angle of this game?
AD: Well, my most intriguing angle of this game is the shift in the rivalry. The rivalry is a kinder, gentler rivalry and I think a couple of things have contributed to that. You saw the letter out today from both athletic directors, Tom Holmoe and Mark Harlan, but I think with BYU hiring Kalani (Sitake), they've consistently expressed affection for one another, and support for each other. Those coaching staffs are really close. I just think there's less animosity between the coaching staffs, and then you have players outside like Steve Tate and Reno Mahe teaming up to do some stuff. Both of them lost a child, so they reached out to one another, they've done some things together. You've seen BYU and Utah fans team up on a number of charitable endeavors. And then most recently, I saw last night, a BYU fan offering to pay for a Utah fan who couldn't afford it but deserved to go to the Pac-12 game. So I think you see some effort from the leadership of the school, and I think BYU actually was involved too in sending condolences to Utah, they all dressed their whole staff — I don't know where they got all those Utah shirts. I'm wondering about some closet fans down there now. But they sent condolences when Lauren McCluskey was killed. So I think from the top to the bottom, you're seeing a much less toxic rivalry and it makes it more fun for me.
DH: I would agree with you, Amy. I don't know how much the letter from the athletic directors will be really taken into account by the fans in general, probably not worth the paper it's printed on. But I think that it's a good gesture. It's nice that these two athletic directors, from the safety of their offices with their secretaries, put out among their system this great letter of peace and harmony, and I hope it works. Jeff Call, what's your most intriguing story of this game?
JC: Well, we've kind of talked about some of them but I want to actually ask Amy and Dirk this question because I'm really interested. Utah has won seven in a row, they've wrapped up the Pac-12 south for the first time. Huge accomplishment for Utah, they're going to play in the Pac-12 championship game here soon. What is your sense — do you think that Utah's going to take this game as seriously as they usually do? Are they going to overlook BYU in any way? What is your sense talking to those guys and coaches about their approach? I'm not talking about Kyle, I'm talking about players ...
DH: He's talking about all the fans that say they don't really care. There's some Utah fans that say I don't care about BYU. I couldn't care less if they play this game. It means nothing to me. We're going to the Rose Bowl — those guys. Maybe it filters into a couple players. Maybe not, under Kyle.
AD: Those fans don't have to go to practice with Kyle Whittingham. They don't have to lift with the Utah coaches. Would you disagree with me, Dirk? There's no way.
DF: There's all that crap in the background about that they shouldn't play this game and it's meaningless and all that. It matters. It's a big deal to the state of Utah, it's a state treasure I think, this game. Sometimes it obviously gets off the tracks but this game needs to be played. Just look at the scores, even during Utah's win streak. There's been a couple blowouts but there's been a lot of games that really were one-possession games at the end.
AD: Really entertaining games.
DH: I would agree with you and I think that Utah's had the better part of the psychological edge in all of those wins. Even though in some of those games BYU's been favored, it seems like Kyle has pushed the right buttons during that week in a lot of different ways, in both the Bronco Mendenhall era and now in the Sitake era. Dirk what's your big angle, what's your big story angle for this weekend's game?
DF: The quarterbacks are obviously one thing, but the thing I look at is the game doesn't really matter. BYU is already bowl-eligible, Utah is still one win away from going to the Rose Bowl, win or lose this Saturday. So its kind of come down to pride, I think, this game. And these guys are going to go after it and go after it hard, but I find it intriguing that with the Pac-12 championship game there — we talked about this at the start of the year, what would happen if Utah had clinched a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and still had to play the rivalry game. And Kyle Whittingham was asked at his press conference today about this. You know, about whether he'd rest players and that. And he said no. You can't do that. He can't tell them to turn it off and then try to turn it on again next week. So I think you're going to get Utah's full shot, Amy, don't you think?
AD: Because I think we do this. Media always talks about the strategy of winning championships or whatever. And this game doesn't mean anything. If you're a competitor and this is your livelihood, which is basically what these guys do, there's not a meaningless game. It doesn't matter if we think it's interesting, or we think it's an intriguing matchup, or the fans care, or there's an empty stadium. Every game is significant to people who compete like these guys do. I would hate to go up against them in anything. Monopoly, you name it. They're very competitive people and we can talk all we want about does this game matter? Or how does it play into whatever. For them there's one goal and if I'm Kyle Whittingham, in his head, I am going to put the beatdown on BYU in the first half and then I'm going to send in Drew Lisk. No, I would. That's the only way my guys get a rest. You put up so many points on the board that they can't come back and the second-string guys can get a chance to play in this rivalry.
DH: There you go. Perfect scenario for Kyle if that happened. Jeff Call, we've seen BYU struggle to get up for games, especially at home. We've seen them play much better on the road. We've also seen that Kalani has kind of struggled without a conference membership to frame each game during the month of October and November, frame it and get people going and get their team motivated. I don't think they'll have trouble this week, but what's your sense of Kalani's ability to put a frame around this and get his team motivated to come up to Salt Lake City and play the best game that they play?
JC: Well I think that, like you said Dick, we saw BYU play an amazing game at Wisconsin. They played really well at Arizona. The exception was at Washington, they didn't play well, but I do think that now that BYU's bowl-eligible they've got that monkey off their back, so to speak, they don't have to worry about having to win this game to get bowl-eligible. I think that allows Kalani to tell these guys it's a one game season, this is a big game, we don't know anything beyond what's going to happen this Saturday. So in his words, empty the tank. Let's give it all we got, let's throw everything we can at them and try to win this game.
DH: Let's go down position by position now. Let's make it a quick roundtable kind of a shotgun thing. You guys just speak out which team you think has the advantage as I talk about one of the positions and we'll start with myself. The offensive line I think both of them have had their ups and downs. I'm going to call it a wash. The advantage is a wash in this game.
JC: Yeah, I think it depends on which offensive line shows up for BYU. We saw, even since last week we've seen some changes on the starting positions, the offensive line. So see which guys show up and play well.
AD: I agree. I think there's a slight edge for Utah as far as just size and ability across the board as a unit, but I think both of them have played inconsistently, so I would agree with that.
DF: In this game I'm going to go with the Utes and I'm going to throw the senior night factor into this. You got Jackson Barton and Lo Falemaka and you got some guys playing their last games who happen to be on the offensive line and are leaders on the team. I respect what BYU has but I think in this matchup I give the slight edge to Utah.
DH: The next thing, defensive line. Can I speak for everybody here and we'll just get on with it. Utah has got the advantage here, we'll just skip that one and just go right on.
AD: They've got the advantage two-deep.
DF: And they're playing well right now too and that's the other thing. Maxs Tupai and some other guys that have stepped up and that's really going to be one of the intriguing matchup is to see how BYU's offensive line can handle the pressure that the defensive line from Utah is going to give them.
DH: Third thing, receivers. Let's talk about receivers real quick guys. Who has the advantage, Jeff Call
JC: It's somewhat even in the fact that — I'm going to factor in the tight ends in this. I think Dallin Holker, Matt Bushman, if they're targeted they can make plays. They're playmakers. They've got to be an integral part of this gameplan. But Utah's got great receivers as well, and Britain Covey is amazing. The shots I've seen him take this year and get up and then just make plays, he's so elusive, I don't know. It's somewhat even I'd say.
AD: I think Utah does. I do like BYU's tight ends but if I have to choose I'm going to take Utah's tight ends because they're big, I mean they're as big as some of the linemen, and they're super athletic. And it's not just Britain Covey. I think Britain Covey sucks up a lot of air because we love him as media people. If you look at the list, every game, six, eight kids are catching passes. And that's with both quarterbacks.
DF: Yeah, I gotta go Utah and I gotta throw the Jaylen Dixon factor in there. He was a high school teammate of Jason Shelley's, they had two big hookups in the snow at Colorado and I think before Jaylen emerged it was kind of a wash. Britain Covey's obviously having a fantastic season and he's one to watch and, you know, too bad for BYU fans that they were able to get him out of Utah County and get him up to Salt Lake because he is certainly, despite his size limitations, playing big.
DH: You could thank Robert Anae for that. But yes, that pushes it over by a far long spot, is that Britain Covey is Superman. He's Mighty Mouse, he makes a huge difference in that team.
The next category is the secondary. Can we go ahead and submit that Utah's best secondary, probably in the history of the world, according to Amy, has the edge on that and we'll just go on to the next one.
We'll go to running backs. Kind of inexperienced running backs, guys have been banged up, people trying to make themselves available. In my opinion BYU's probably got a little bit more experience from the guys that they had. They had a career night out of the Lopini Katoa last week. I think still that Shyne is strong, he's good. I wouldn't call it a wash. I'd maybe say BYU has a little bit of an advantage there.
JC: I'd say Utah with the advantage there's because Shyne's a guy that can get a lot of yards. And BYU has kind of been by committee this year. And Matt Hadley has come on, and Lopini Katoa has come on. But even Katoa has not been fully healthy and so I have to give Utah an edge there.
DH: I give them an edge because of their defense. BYU's running backs are going to have a very hard time.
AD: I think that's the problem with rating running backs, is we're relying on those inconsistent offensive lines we talked about earlier. But I actually like BYU's running backs. Utah has used more since Zach Moss has been out too, so they've relied on a few guys, but I think Shyne and Katoa are similar but if he's healthy then I would probably give the edge to BYU. That's not factoring in the lines.
DF: I like BYU's running backs. Canada was impressive against Wisconsin, it was fun to watch even though his mom got more airtime probably than he did. But you know, I think the X-factor here is Armand Shyne, the fact that he's fresh right now at this point of the season. He had 174 yards to debut and he's got fresh legs, he's completely healthy, back from his injury. So I'd say just because he doesn't have the wear and tear that a lot of the running backs on both sides have at this point of the year, and obviously losing Zack Moss was a huge blow for Utah, but people forget that Armand Shyne was the starting running back when he got hurt two years ago. So there are some fresh legs, so I'll go that way just because of the fresh legs.
DH: Let's go to linebackers real quick and I'll start off. I like the linebackers on both teams. Sione Takitaki is a tremendous player, extremely quick, he'll be playing on Sundays. But Utah, you got to look at them, and they've got Chase Hansen, they've got Cody Barton and Francis Bernard coming on a heck of a game at Colorado. Because of the depth I'd give the edge to Utah.
JC: Yeah I'd give an edge to Utah although I would mention that Isaiah Kaufusi has really come on these last few weeks. He's been a big playmaker for BYU, had that great interception Saturday. And BYU's going to need that from him. I mean they're down already Zayne Anderson this year, I think it's a game again that BYU's going to miss Zayne Anderson. But yeah I give Utah a slight edge there at linebacker.
DH: Well these two guys, Dirk and Amy, and you guys are probably going to take the Utes. I see no argument of why they can't say behind Chase Hansen, they got an advantage there. So we're going to skip this unless you got something real good to say.
AD: The only think I was gonna say is between Cody and Chase together, both captains, both super experienced, and both of them have multiple sacks and tackles for loss.
DF: And let's not forget with the targeting penalty, Chase Hansen's fresh. He didn't play very much last week.
DH: Let's move on to the big one, the quarterback. The two freshmen that will be on the field there. Zach Wilson has got a little bit of wheels, not a slow quarterback, not a guy that's going to stand behind there and not defend himself. That could also get him into trouble a little bit. He's scored seven touchdowns this season, six by the air. I haven't seen a lot of Shelley. I haven't covered him, but I got to think that maybe because of the experience that he has — played a few more games — that maybe I'll give the edge to Zach. But no disrespect to Shelly.
JC: Well you know Zach, when you're dealing with freshmen quarterbacks on both sides, I mean, when it's your first time playing this rivalry, I don't think you know exactly what you're up against. I will say though, that Zach knows everything about this rivalry. He grew up going to games at Rice-Eccles, he knows about the rivalry and everything like that. It's gonna be interesting to see how he translates that on the field because I mean, this is a new experience for him. Even if you're around the rivalry, playing in it's different. But he's a kind of guy that he's very confident, and he doesn't seem to let much ruffle him, and I'm just really curious to see in that environment how he handles himself against a very good Utah defense.
AD: I'm going to just say the same thing. I've watched a little bit of Zach and I think it's probably pretty even. Dirk asked Kyle whether or not Jason could handle the rivalry, which we'll be taking some abuse for, but then Kyle's not allowing us to talk to Jason before the game. So that sends me two messages. We've had two times — his first start, and then this time — that we haven't been able to talk to him. So I think that indicates maybe they don't want him to offer some bulletin board material. I don't know.
DH: Jeff, how long did we get Zach Wilson this week?
JC: Well, I talked to him a little bit today, and then he'll probably be available tomorrow.
DH: So one is not available, the other is. I don't know. Kyle handles these things pretty difficultly.
AD: Yeah. I mean, he's definitely much more of a we're not going to have an issue because I'm not gonna let us have an issue. Rather than Kalani, who's gonna deal with ...
DF: Jason Shelley was available to the media after the game in Colorado. I asked him about the rivalry and that. You know, he's a redshirt freshman. So he was on the sideline last year, he knows the environment, he saw it firsthand, he had pretty good seats standing there on the sideline. But he expressed knowledge that this is an important game to the state of Utah. He knows it.
AD: You think you guys have interviewed a lot of guys and you've been in a lot of these environments. Don't you think that there's no way for people like us, who have not played in something like this, competed, you're representing your community, your school, whatever, to understand the internal pressure that they feel and the desire. For me it's the desire that gets you into trouble, because you want to win so bad. That's when you screw up.
DH: But isn't he trading some of the athletes — I'm talking about Kyle, whom I love, played football with my brother at Provo High School. Isn't he doing kind of like (John) Thompson did at Georgetown with an athlete, just don't talk to the media. Now he's talked to media but he really restricts some of these guys at critical times in the season. Nothing wrong with that.
AD: He's never done that. This is the first time since I've been up there.
DF: Shelley is pretty much the only guy, and injured guys. And when Francis Bernard first came and transferred to Utah and he was kind of off limits to get his feet wet. But yeah, he's been available and such.
AD: I don't know if you can read anything into it. I read into it that you're afraid your freshman's gonna say something that's going to give the other team motivation, which lets me know Kyle knows there's a mental component. And I think that the the desire and the emotions that come with this are difficult to understand if you've never been the person upon which all these fans have pinned their hopes and dreams, right?
DF: Everything seems to be falling to the red side, but I've got to go with Shelley just for the fact that he was on the sideline for the game last year, kind of knows the environment, and then as Kyle pointed out, he's played in some big Pac-12 games. When they were trying to win a championship and the South Division, so I don't think anything's gonna rock his world when he gets there especially with the game being in Salt Lake City.
AD: Honestly I think getting hit is easier than dealing with the fans' expectations.
DH: Like Jeff said though, Zach Wilson has been there since he was being fed a bottle on his mother's lap so he's been in Rice-Eccles Stadium his whole life.
AD: But when I talk to these guys, it's much different to be a fan. For me, I know being a fan of sports and then coming into being a sports writer sucked all the fun out of it. It's not the same thing. So I think being a fan, Zach Wilson growing up with it. It's different.
DF: Maybe it's a good question for Jeff. I mean, Zach Wilson, if this game were in Provo, would it be different? I mean, is it the fact that he, as a true freshman, is playing in Salt Lake City? Is that a big factor? Just because of the crowd. I know he's been to games and stuff but they're going to be on him. The fans are going to be all over him.
JC: Yeah. In fact, he was at the USC-Utah game here a few weeks ago and he was wearing BYU gear and he told me that a few people got after him, were pretty harsh to him for wearing it. Which you can understand. But I think he understands the nature of this rivalry. He's been on the other side of it and he understands all that. Like I said, it's going to be interesting to see for a 19-year-old kid, recently moved from high school, being thrust in that position, you know having the keys to BYU's offense in that environment, I'm really fascinated see how he responds.
DF: Dick, You've seen a lot of these. I just wonder, taking those snaps as a 19-year-old kid when the crowd's cheering for you, or having 45,000 people that are on your case.
DH: I go back to quarterbacks playing in Rice-Eccles Stadium, and even Cougar Stadium, in this rivalry. Some of them have really excelled and really soaked it in and had a competitive spirit and others have kind of melted. And players have melted down. And in this seven-game winning streak I think one of the things that Utah's done very well is psychologically just had an advantage and weight that's been put on these BYU players feeling the pressure. And they've made mistakes that you haven't seen. We've seen hikes over the head. We've seen quarterbacks fumble hikes, we've seen the ball go over a quarterback's head and go 30, 40 yards down. I mean, it is a hard thing to do.
Lastly, our last thing, and I think we can all push on this. It's all special teams. Utah has special teams advantage. I don't think we can argue with that. All the way. All those in favor say aye. We'll skip that one then. Overall, we're going to do that in our picks. And we're going to go on right now. Let's have a score out of each one of you. And you'll start with Jeff Call.
JC: I'm going to go Utah 27, BYU 13.
AD: I'm going 34-31. Utah.
DF: Keep everyone in their snowy seats to the end, right? I think you're looking at a 35-17 for Utah.
DH: I'm going 17-10, Utah. I think it's going to be a defensive battle. It might be pretty cold, but yeah, we're all in unison here. Utah should be favored. They are favored by 13.5 points. They will win this game. That's our prediction.
AD: I would not be surprised if they shut them out. I just want to go on record saying that, even though I picked 34-31, which I'm hoping for.4 comments on this story
DH: We are talking about the No. 1 defense in the red zone. You get down inside the 20 — for any team they're No. 1 in the country at stopping people. And BYU has had its troubles scoring the football in this season. Hey thanks for joining us on this edition of the rivalry week podcast. I'm Dick Harmon, along with Dirk Facer and Amy Donaldson and Jeff Call. We appreciate you being with us all week long, we've had a ton of stuff and a ton of fun. We invite you to get your email to us at [email protected], and for the Utes, it's [email protected] Thanks for being with us. Hey we'll see you at the game.