FACTS & STATS: Site: LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,470) -- Provo, Utah. Television: ESPN 2. Home Record: Utah 2-1, BYU 1-0. Away Record: Utah 0-0, BYU 0-1. Neutral Record: Utah 0-0, BYU 0-0. Conference Record: Utah 0-1, BYU 0-0. Series Record: Utah leads, 53-31-4.
GAME NOTES: Another installment of the Desert Duel Rivalry is on tap in Provo this weekend, as the BYU Cougars play host to the Utah Utes at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The Utes are out on the road for the first time this season after opening 2013 with three straight home dates. The first two went well enough for Utah, the team picking victories over Utah State (30-26) and Weber State (70-7), but taking on an opponent from outside the Beehive State last weekend was a different story.
Opening up Pac-12 Conference play last weekend, the Utes went to overtime against Oregon State and ended up with a 51-48 setback in front of the home crowd in Salt Lake City.
While Utah was caught in a punishing conference battle, the Cougars were enjoying some time off following their first two games of the campaign. BYU began the year with a hard-fought defeat at Virginia (19-16), but then rebounded with a monumental 40-21 victory over 15th-ranked Texas, a game in which the Cougars set a single-game rushing record with 550 yards.
The teams, competitors in the same conference for 113 years before the Utes moved to the Pac-12 in 2011 and BYU became an Independent, last met a season ago with the Utes capturing a 24-21 victory. As a result, the Cougars now trail the all-time series by a count of 53-31-4, although the rivalry has been much more competitive in Provo over the years, with the Utes owning only an 18-15-1 edge.
The Utes were paced by Travis Wilson who not only connected on 19-of-33 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns, he also produced a game-high 142 yards and three more TDs on 13 rushing attempts in the losing effort against Oregon State. Wilson, who was sacked once, did have three passes picked off and those miscues proved to be costly, particularly the one that was returned for a touchdown during the first minute of the second half.
The defense for Utah just could not get a grip as it allowed the Beavers to score at least 10 points in each quarter. OSU was limited to only 48 net rushing yards, but that's because the passing attack was having a field day against the Utah secondary, rolling up 443 yards and five touchdowns.
Utah is currently tied for 14th in the country in run defense with only 96.7 ypg allowed, but again, that's because the secondary has been exposed so much already. In fact, the Utes are 112th nationally with close to 300 ypg permitted through the air and that's not a good sign with the conference schedule on the horizon.
Wilson obviously has the potential to offset any deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball, but he can only do so much. After three games the signal caller has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and is also first on the team with 244 yards rushing and five scores on the ground. As a collective unit, Utah is averaging 6.2 yards per rushing attempt, leading to 11 TDs, nine more than the opposition.
If the Utes thought they were a capable running team, they need to take another look at what BYU did to Texas a few weeks back. Granted, the Longhorns are no longer the gold standard in the Big 12, but to allow a school-record 550 yards on the ground is just unfathomable. Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill ran for a staggering 259 yards, not just a personal best but also the second- most rushing yards for any player at BYU.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who has led the Cougars to the postseason in each of his first eight seasons at the helm, has the team generating 368.5 ypg, good for second-best in the nation entering the fourth week of the campaign. In terms of total offense, the Cougars are putting up 520.5 ypg, which ranks 22nd nationally.
However, as great as Hill might be with the ball in his hands when he leaves the pocket, the truth is he has a long way to go before he can be a real threat as a passer. The signal caller has completed only 33.3 percent of his passes and has just a single touchdown against two interceptions.
There isn't a single receiver with more than five catches, which must be rather frustrating for everyone involved.
Defensively, the group has forced just two turnovers and recorded a mere four sacks, two of which have come from Alani Fua who is second on the team in total stops with 16.
Rivalry games typically take on a life of their own, particularly when you pit two teams against each other that are so familiar. If the Cougars hope to come out on top at home in this matchup they'll need Hill to make something happen with both his legs and his arm.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: BYU 35, Utah 28
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