Throw out the records because Saturday’s in-state showdown between No. 21 Utah (1-0) and BYU (1-0) will likely be another instant classic game between both programs.
BYU and Utah are meeting for the 101st or 95th time — depending which school you ask — with the Utes leading the overall series 59-31-4. Utah has won nine in a row against BYU, tied for the longest winning streak for either team. BYU won nine in a row from 1979-1987 while the Utes had another nine-game winning streak from 1929-1937. No team has ever won 10 in a row in the rivalry and the Utes look to do just that when they go on the road to LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The Utes have dominated the series over the past decade, however, most of the wins have been decided by a touchdown or less, including two overtime games. For the most part, the games have been pretty competitive and Saturdays’ game should be much of the same. In fact, since the Pac-12 era, BYU and Utah have been favored four times each. And over the last five games, the contest has been decided by an average of seven points.
Date: Saturday, September 11
Time: 8:15 p.m. MT
Announcers: Dave Fleming (play-by-play), Rod Gilmore (analyst), Alex Chappell (sideline)
Location: LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,470) — Provo, Utah
The Spread: UTAH -7
Money Line: UTAH -290, BYU +240
When betting lines first opened, Utah was a six point favorite. That has slowly gone up as the Utes are now a touchdown favorite over the Cougars. The over/under opened at 49.5, before dropping to 47 for much of the week before climbing back around 49 late Thursday.
Oddsmakers are loving Utah and the money line continues to show it. The money line simply involves picking the winning team. With Utah at -290, those picking Utah to win would have to risk $290 to win $100. However, for those picking BYU, one would win $240 for his/her $100 wager.
ESPN Football Power Index gives the Utes a 60.7% chance to beat BYU. SP+, a predictive analytics tool created by ESPN’s Bill Connelly, has Utah beating BYU 33-23.
- Utah is 5-0 against the spread in their last five meetings at BYU.
- The over is 4-1 in BYU’s last five games as an underdog.
- The Utes are 9-1 against the spread in their last 10 games following a win.
- BYU failed to cover Week 1 at Arizona (-13.5).
- The Cougars 4-0 on the under in their last four games.
Jaren Hall isn’t Zach Wilson, but he still had a strong performance against Arizona as the sophomore dual-threat quarterback threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns and most importantly, did not turn the ball over. He also showed off his speed as the 6-foot-1, 205 pounder broke off a 39-yard run.
While the offense was good enough to get the win over the Wildcats, the Cougars will be going up a much bigger test when they face Utah’s defense Saturday night. The Utes have always had outstanding defenses under Kyle Whittingham and this year look to be much of the same with the return of Devin Lloyd, one of the top linebackers in the country.
The Utes gave up just 270 yard against Weber State and held the Wildcats to just 1.9 yards per carry on the ground. If BYU wants to end the streak, the Cougars want a balanced attack on offense and will need to get the run game going to help keep Utah’s defense off balance.
On the flip side, BYU’s defense was very inconsistent against Arizona last week. The Wildcats are likely one of the worst teams in teh Pac-12 and the Cougars failed to cover as double-digit favorites.
Should fans be worried, Yes and no. The game was funky as a number of injuries interrupted the game in the first half, including a 20 minute delay after BYU corner
Keenan Ellis was taken out on a stretcher after making a tackle. BYU’s run defense was pretty good for much of the night, but the secondary got toasted as Arizona QB Gunner Cruz completed 34-for-45 passes for 336 yards in his first start. Poor tackling and yards after the catch was the biggest issue and will need to be cleaned up.
It wasn’t a great performance by any means, but the Utes did get the job done in a 40-17 victory over FCS Weber State in the home opener.
Some of the issues against Weber State was converting third downs (2-of-8) and missed on both fourth down tries. The Utes also had two turnovers and gave up a special teams touchdown too. That’s not going to cut it against BYU if the Utes want to continue the rivalry streak.
On the positives, Utah running back Tavion Thomas looked good and has so far emerged himself from the crowded running back room of Micah Bernard, TJ Pledger (Oklahoma transfer) and Chris Curry (LSU transfer). Thomas ran for 107 yards and two touchdowns in the win last week.
No surprise, Utah’s defense looks good as they gave up just 10 points and held teh Wildcats to just 270 yards on offense. The massive defensive front stopped up the Wildcat running game, allowing just 1.9 yards per carry.
Last but not least, Utah QB and Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer looked good in his debut. Teh senior completed 19-of-27 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns.
Players To Watch
BYU: Wide receiver Neil Pau’u caught eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona. Unfortunately Pau’u got banged up late in the game against the Wildcats and won’t be 100%. In fact, the entire wide receiving core was depleted last week with Gunner Romney going down with a serious injury, along with both the Nacua brothers (Samson and Puka) who sat out due to lingering injuries. Most of the group is expected to play, but if they aren’t close to 100%, the BYU passing game could be in trouble against Utah’s aggressive defense, which has recorded nine defensive touchdowns in the last nine rivalry games.
Utah: Linebacker Devin Lloyd had a career-high 12 tackles in a win over Weber State. He also had an interception, sack, forced fumble and two tackles for loss. If anyone was going to get another defensive touchdown against BYU and continue the streak, it will likely be Lloyd or CB Clark Phillips.
Prediction: Utah 24, BYU 17
Until the Cougars can show they can break the Max Hall curse, there is no reason to go against Kyle Whittingham who knows how to get his guys ready for the big game.
I will say this, if these teams played last year, there’s a very good chance the Cougars would have ended the streak with so many players having gone on to play in the NFL. However, this year, Utah is now the veteran team and BYU, which lost the most production of any team due to so many guys leaving for the NFL, is still trying to find its footing.
Having played just one game, we still don’t really know just how good these teams will be this year, especially with both teams keeping things pretty vanilla in their opening games.
Bottom line: Kyle Whittingham knows how to beat BYU and get his guys ready for the game. The Utes are also rested and healthy after cruising past Weber State last Thursday. Meanwhile, BYU, which played Saturday night, is banged up heading into the Holy War. On the flip side, winning streaks don’t go on forever and with BYU playing at home and all the excitement surrounding the Cougars’ Big 12 invite, LaVell Edwards Stadium is going to be rocking.
At the end of the day, I think the game will come down to the wire and Utah will pull out another win. Vegas has Utah favored by a touchdown and that seems about right considering 16 of the last 20 contests have been decided by one score. Kyle Whittingham loves to control the clock and possession and thrives on long scoring drives, thus limiting possessions for the opposing team. As much as Brewer loves to throw the ball, Whittingham will likely keep to his rivalry theme of few possessions and low-scoring games which is why I’m taking the under in this game.
If BYU doesn’t give up a defensive touchdown like it has the last nine rivalry games, that could very well be the difference in a win or loss Saturday night. At the end of the day, fans can expect another classic showdown between both teams in what should be another down-to-the-wire game.