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Rivalry week: Coaches weigh in on game’s matchups

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During Tuesday's weekly Mountain West Conference teleconference, several coaches in the league offered their insights into Saturday's BYU-Utah game, which has Bowl Championship Series and conference title implications.

San Diego State coach Chuck Long, whose team is coming off back-to-back losses to the Cougars and Utes, said the passing game will play a major factor in the outcome.

"I think Utah's going to throw it on them. They did a real good job against us," he said. "They're going to try to get the ball to the outside and use their speed to get to the outside with the football.

"Running the ball up the middle on BYU will be tough to do because they're so big and strong inside. When they throw the ball, they'll spread it out.

"I do believe BYU will try to throw it probably more than they'll run it," Long added. "They like to keep that balance in their offense, but I think BYU will be able to throw the ball on Utah. They'll want to work those tight ends on the inside and, of course, try to get (Austin) Collie open and get him in some one-on-one matchups.

"BYU's not one to change their ways for anybody. But I think they'll have to throw the ball to win the game."

Which team has the edge?

"Utah has more team speed than BYU," Long said. "BYU has more size and strength up front. Those are the edges for both sides."

UNLV coach Mike Sanford is a former Ute assistant. His team benefits if Utah wins because it will open up another bowl spot for the MWC, though the Rebels need to defeat San Diego State on Saturday to become bowl eligible.

"Brian Johnson is, regardless of statistics, the most successful quarterback in the conference. I think he's the class quarterback of the conference," Sanford said.

"Even though BYU is good on run defense, (Utah's) two runners, (Matt) Asiata and (Darrell) Mack, and combined with the offensive line and the receivers blocking, I think that's an advantage. BYU has had difficulty defending the pass. Utah has a really good passing game."

Added Sanford: "BYU has a great offense with Max Hall at quarterback, and Austin Collie is the most productive receiver in our conference. I think he's the best player in our league at receiver. I think their big, physical backs are going to be a factor in the game. Their tight ends, (Dennis) Pitta and (Andrew) George, are really good players.

"Utah will blitz and do a lot of different things. The key's going to be how well (BYU) can protect (Hall) and get rid of the ball."

TCU coach Gary Patterson admits that he'd prefer to see BYU win because that would give his team a share of the conference title, as long as the Horned Frogs can beat Air Force this weekend.

"Not that I favor one or the other," Patterson emphasized. "It comes down to having a chance to tie for a conference championship."

The Horned Frogs crushed BYU in October and fell to Utah earlier this month.

Which team has the edge?

"The edge for Utah is, they're a little bit faster. They play in-your-face defense and force you to go make plays," Patterson said. "BYU's advantage is, they're going to play a lot tougher defense than they get credit for. They have a tremendous offense. It's really going to be a matchup of best-against-best."

E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com