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Big game should feature big scores

BYU quarterback John Beck is averaging more than 300 yards passing this year and will look to keep up that trend vs. the Utes on Saturday.
BYU quarterback John Beck is averaging more than 300 yards passing this year and will look to keep up that trend vs. the Utes on Saturday.
Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

Until Brian Johnson's last-minute injury in Utah's loss to New Mexico on Saturday night, it looked like Saturday's BYU-Utah game was destined to become the highest-scoring game in the long history of the rivalry. Or at least, the second-highest behind the 101-point game of 1989.

Both teams have scored in bunches all season, particularly of late, with the Cougars averaging 51 points in their last three games and the Utes averaging 37 in their last three.

However, Johnson's season-ending knee injury, along with the broken ankle of leading receiver John Madsen, puts a serious crimp in the Utes' offense, which ranks first in the Mountain West Conference and No. 12 in the nation at 463.5 yards per game.

On the other hand, considering BYU's sieve-like defense at times this year, perhaps the Utes can still lay some big numbers on the Cougars even with a quarterback (Brett Ratliff) who has hardly played all season.

The Utes come into the game averaging 28 points, while the Cougars are averaging 33. But just as telling are the defenses, with Utah allowing 24 points per game and BYU 27.

Both teams have been prone to surrendering big plays nearly every week as well as a lot of points. The Utes gave up 35 points to Air Force and 32 to UNLV, the two worst teams in the MWC. The Ute defense allowed at least one big play in each of the losses to TCU, North Carolina, San Diego State, Colorado State and New Mexico.

BYU's defense has been even worse. While the Utes are giving up 361.6 yards per game on defense, the Cougars are allowing 404. The Cougars are last in the MWC in pass defense at 276 yards per game and even last-place UNLV was able to rack up 329 yards in the air versus the Cougars.

If the Cougars allowed ordinary backs like Lynell Hamilton of San Diego State and Wynel Seldon of Wyoming to go for 161 and 110 yards, respectively, they'll have to watch out for Utah's Quinton Ganther, who ranks third in the league with just less than 100 yards per game.

In the passing department, Notre Dame's Brady Quinn shredded the BYU secondary for 467 yards and six touchdowns with Maurice Stovall accounting for 207 receiving yards.

Those numbers have to give Utah hope, along with the fact that a couple of other second-string quarterbacks have done pretty well against the Cougars this year. Air Force's Adam Fitch passed for 265 yards against BYU and TCU's Jeff Ballard passed for 150 in the second half of a come-from-behind victory.

On the other side, the Utes have to be wary of a Cougar offense that is hitting on all cylinders these days.

Not only do the Cougars have the top passer in the league in John Beck, who averages more than 300 yards per game, they have the running attack to balance it out with the dual threats of Curtis Brown and Fahu Tahi. Even though the defense has played better the past two weeks, the Utes will have all they can handle with the balanced Cougar attack that can pile up points in a hurry.

If this indeed is to be the highest-scoring Utah-BYU game ever or even one of the top five, it is likely to be a blowout, going by past history. The average margin of victory in the five highest-scoring Utah-BYU games has been 31.6 points. Of the top eight high-scoring Cougar-Ute games, the closest margin was BYU's 23-point victory in 1990.

There never have been any 49-45 type games throughout the 83-year rivalry. The most points the losing team has ever scored was 32 by the Cougars in the famous 1953 Thanksgiving Day game in Salt Lake, won by the Utes 33-32. The second-most was the 31 the Utes put up, all in the second half, in 1989 in Provo.

The highest-scoring "close" game was the 38-28 Cougar victory in Provo in 1985, followed by the back-to-back 34-31 games of 1993-94 and the 1953 game.

One other thing about the high-scoring games: They seem to come in bunches.

Three of the top 13 high-scoring games came in consecutive years, 1973-75, while six of them came in a seven-game stretch from 1988 to 1994. Seeing how last year's 52-21 Ute win ranks No. 4 all-time for most points, be ready for another scoring fest this year.