I still think the game matters. But there’s a different feel to it. – BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall
PROVO — For decades, BYU and Utah battled each other as conference foes.
But that ended in 2011.
Now, the Cougars are independent and the Utes belong to the Pac-12, and the two foes meet in September instead of November — changing the face of the rivalry forever.
How does BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall define the rivalry now?
"I don't really know how to describe it," he said. "It's certainly still is a rivalry, but there are different conferences now and the game's played earlier in the year. I still think the game matters. But there's a different feel to it."
Mendenhall believes the rivalry's tone has become a little kinder and gentler.
"So far this year, it's a step in the right direction," he said. "I thought last year was closer. Certainly the nature of the game, as it wasn't as competitive (Utah crushed BYU, 54-10), probably had something to do with it as well. But it just seems like it's more about actually playing the game now than all the stuff that leads up to it or after it. That's better."
UTAH'S D-LINE: One of the strengths of Utah's team is its defensive line, led by senior Star Lotulelei. Of course, it's a concern for the Cougars as they prepare to face the Utes.
"We've got to get bodies on bodies and make certain we (block)," said BYU quarterback Riley Nelson. "Of course, this isn't nothing special for Utah, but I need to get the ball out of my hand on time. That's a part of our offense that's a big part of our game plan going into every game. If I can get my pre-snap reads and my post-snaps reads and deliver the ball on time and quickly, hopefully I don't give those guys a lot of opportunity to not only hit me, but they are very talented pass-rushers and run-stoppers. If we can do those things, you can't stop them but hopefully you can neutralize them at times."
"They're talented and they're big and physical," Mendenhall said of Utah's D-line. "When you look statistically, both defenses are playing really well. So it will be interesting to see how that shapes out."
NELSON AS A UTE? Out of high school, Nelson, a Logan native, was recruited by Utah. He decided to enroll at Utah State as a freshman before transferring to BYU after a mission.
Does Nelson ever think about what might have been had he signed with the Utes?
"Yeah, only to the extent that when I drive home, it would be an hour shorter. It wouldn't be two hours, it would be an hour and 10 (minutes)," he joked. "I'd be up on the lake a lot quicker. I've thought about it. I wouldn't get guff for growing my hair long if I was up there. Beyond those two things, I haven't given much thought to it."