There are two “R” words that haven’t graced the lips of BYU football players and coaches a heck of a lot this week as they have prepared to welcome the No. 9 Baylor Bears — their future Big 12 mates — into LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday.
Rivalry and revenge.
Kickoff is at 8:15 p.m. MDT and one of only two games in college football’s FBS division this weekend that will be televised by ESPN. Last year, Baylor steamrolled BYU 38-24 in Waco, Texas, in the first meeting between the faith-based schools since 1984.
“Well, it wasn’t competitive enough last year to call it a rivalry. I mean, they pushed us around and bullied us and had their way with us. I don’t think you can call it a rivalry until you earn some respect.” — BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick
Naturally, the No. 21-ranked Cougars want to avenge that defeat the year before they get to the Big 12 and play the Bears on a more consistent basis. But they aren’t publicly saying as much.
“No, I wouldn’t consider it a revenge game,” BYU tight end Isaac Rex said Wednesday. “They beat us straight up last year. They ran the ball on us, stopped us from running it on them, and their defense forced turnovers, got the ball from us. It is not really a revenge game as much as we just want to show that we can go out there and win, that we can compete with these guys.”
It isn’t a rivalry yet either, said Rex, who has his opinions and isn’t afraid to share them. Last month, for instance, he criticized the practice of having preseason college football polls.
“We are going to the Big 12 to join them, so I mean, one day it could turn out to be a rivalry. But right now it is not. We haven’t earned that yet,” Rex said. “They were the better team last year. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we almost had them.’ It wasn’t close. We haven’t shown that we can come out and compete with them.”
Part of the growing rivalry talk stems from the fact that Baylor lured two popular BYU assistant coaches — offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and offensive line coach Eric Mateos — away from Provo after the Cougars’ 11-1 season in 2020 in which quarterback Zach Wilson zoomed to the top of NFL draft boards. Grimes and Mateos coached the offense that put up 534 yards on the Cougars, including 303 on the ground.
“Well, it wasn’t competitive enough last year to call it a rivalry,” said the man who replaced Grimes as BYU’s OC, Aaron Roderick. “I mean, they pushed us around and bullied us and had their way with us. I don’t think you can call it a rivalry until you earn some respect.”
Roderick allowed that it is only a rivalry “in a fun way” because so many coaches on BYU’s staff remain close friends with so many coaches on Baylor’s staff, including Bears head coach Dave Aranda.
“I like coach Grimey,” Roderick said. “He’s a great friend. We will talk after the game. But I hope some day we are a good enough team that they consider us a rival. I just wouldn’t say it is a rivalry yet.”
BYU quarterback Jaren Hall completed 22 of 31 passes for 342 yards and a touchdown vs. Baylor last year, and also ran for a 56-yard touchdown on fourth down. But it was a long day for the rest of the Cougars.
“I have never had any tie to Baylor throughout my life, really,” Hall said, downplaying the rivalry notion. “Maybe in the future as the Big 12 rolls around, that could definitely be a thing. But I don’t want to say personally, not really.”
Rex said the proper “R” word to use in regards to BYU and Baylor is respect.
“We love coach Grimes, coach Mateos. They are great people,” Rex said. “So it is not too much of a revenge game. It is more that we respect them a lot.”
BYU offensive lineman Harris LaChance, who got the start at right guard in the Cougars’ 50-21 win over South Florida last week, said he’s moving on after this season and won’t get another shot at the Bears like some of his teammates will, so Saturday’s game is extra important to him. He sat out of last year’s game with a high ankle sprain and watched helplessly as the Bears’ defense held the great Tyler Allgeier to 33 yards on 15 carries.
“Maybe when both teams are in the Big 12 it will be a rivalry,” LaChance said. “But it isn’t now.”
Asked by the Deseret News if he would like to see the series grow into a “friendly rivalry,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said he doesn’t like to tell fans “how to do it,” but still remembers the kind way the Cougars were treated last year in Waco, which came a month or so after BYU got the Big 12 invite.
“I thought it was a really cool experience. Obviously their fans love their team. So they cheer for their team.
But I thought they were respectful. From what I know from our fans (who went), they had a good time,” Sitake said. “We were able to have a word of prayer after the game with them. I think the respect will always be there. There will always be intense competition, but they are a program that we want to be like.”
Last year, Baylor welcomed BYU to the conference during its homecoming parade, said to be the largest in the nation, and had BYU President Kevin Worthen and athletic director Tom Holmoe ride in it, waving to fans from the back of a pickup truck.
“You look at the things they are doing, and the resources they have available to them, I think it is a great standard for us to look at. If we want to compete and be conference champions, we have to prepare like Baylor does,” Sitake said. “They have a really good thing going for them. They are getting a lot of recognition for it. I think for us it is trying to find a way to compete with them, and make sure we have our moments, too.”
And maybe then it can be called a rivalry.
Cougars on the air
No. 9 Baylor (1-0) at No. 21 BYU (1-0).
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT.
LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM.