No. 21 BYU (9-2, 7-0) at Utah (7-4, 5-2)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV: CSTV and The mtn.
Radio: 1160AM, 102.7FM, 700AM
If the Cougars win on Saturday, BYU would be the first school in Mountain West Conference history to run the table in conference play twice. The Cougars went 7-0 in MWC play in 2001. The past two conference champions, Utah in 2004 and TCU in 2005, have finished undefeated in league play.
UTAH RUN OFFENSE vs. BYU RUN DEFENSE
Statistics suggest this could be a key matchup. Although Utah's rushing offense was heavily criticized after an incredibly unproductive game at Wyoming (33 yards), the Utes have been about average when it comes to running the football. Their 142.1 yards per game ranks fourth in the MWC and 55th nationally. Utah doesn't feature a dominant running back like Quinton Ganther or Brandon Warfield, but Darryl Poston has steadily improved since the Wyoming game. The running abilities of Brett Ratliff and Eric Weddle must also be taken into account. This year, the Utes will face a much-improved BYU defense. Once a question mark, the defensive line has proven capable, and the linebackers are the strength of the defense. The Cougars allow 117.4 yards per game, good for 37th nationally. Last week, however, BYU was unimpressive. New Mexico ran the ball well on the Cougars, with Rodney Ferguson rushing for 138 yards. BYU has proven it can contain the run, but the Utes' versatility makes this a fairly even matchup.
QUICK RESPONSE: After BYU's victory over New Mexico last Saturday, several Cougar players made emotional, bold comments about their upcoming showdown with Utah. Those comments have received plenty of play in the media — and at the University of Utah.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall prefers that such talk not come from his players.
"I knew the level of interest would be high right after the New Mexico game. I just didn't know it would slide into Utah that quickly," he said. "Before I had a chance to frame how we would approach the week, there were some things said already that came out with players speaking their mind. But I'd just prefer it to be where you don't say anything and just go play. Eventually, we'll get the program to that point."
Mendenhall downplays the impact of players' pregame commentary.
"We're not going to get too caught up in the personalities or what people say. It doesn't have any relevance on how we play," he said.
PERSPECTIVE CHANGE: Jan Jorgensen grew up a Utah fan. Now, he's a redshirt freshman defensive lineman at BYU. "I grew up wanting to play for them," he said. "Now I'm playing against them. It's exciting."
TURKEY DAY: BYU will practice Thursday and finish up at noon, Mendenhall said. After that, players and coaches will be free to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. However, there won't be a team meal provided. In-state players will go to their own homes, while members of the team's leadership council will ensure that players from outside of Utah have a place to spend Thanksgiving.
— Jeff Call
MVP BATTLE: Saturday's game pits the top candidates for Mountain West Conference offensive and defensive players of the year in BYU quarterback John Beck and Utah defensive back Eric Weddle.
"A lot of people look at it that way, but you can't look into that too much. I'm sure he's going to make some plays and I hope I do as well," Weddle said. "Ultimately, I want to win. So does he — of course, even more because he hasn't beat us in his career."
DIVIDED STATE: Linebacker Kyle Brady, a Tooele High alum, knows a thing or two about the rivalry.
"This is a big game for all of us, but especially for Utah high school guys. Growing up in the state it's a big rivalry. You hear about it every year all the way up to the game," Brady said. "Everybody takes sides, even at the high schools — wearing their BYU stuff, wearing their Utah stuff. It's a huge game for anyone that goes to school in Utah."
TURKEY DAY II: The Utes will practice Thanksgiving morning before heading off for turkey dinners. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he considered celebrating the holiday as a team but ultimately opted to let everyone do their own thing.
"All our players are going to be accommodated," he said. "They've all got someplace to go. So we'll just let everyone go to their various places."
— Dirk Facer