Saturday, November 28, 2009

What to Watch for in the Utah Game

It’s rivalry week. It doesn’t matter who is favored. Home team “advantage” has proved to be mythical. Fans of both teams will be seated alongside each other throughout the stadium like a tossed salad. There are bound to be things said and done both on and off the field that will be regretted on Sunday morning. It will be anyone’s game and this is what fans and players look forward to all year.

A few items to watch for as the game unfolds:

• Passion. The Cougars had it last week against Air Force for seemingly the first time. The Utes seem to have it in all the big games. The team that has more of it will likely be ahead at halftime.

• Turnovers. This game has been decided by 7 points or less for of the last 11 games. Essentially decided on the last play of the game in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Every possession matters. The team that has more turnovers, will likely be playing catch up in the final minutes.

• Touchdowns or field goals. It seems that in games with Utah where BYU has been favored, the Cougars have dominated the stat box, but only come away with field goals at the end of several long drives, leaving it open for the Utes to make one fourth quarter drive to take the lead. They will need touchdowns in order to maintain control of this at the end.

• Relax, Max. When Max is relaxed and having fun, he plays well. Sometimes, when he feels the pressure and forced to come from behind, he forces things and drives tend to end quickly in three and outs or sooner with a turnover.

• Run the ball. The Cougs have a history of successfully running the ball in the Utah game. It is almost as if Utah has given that up in favor of defending the pass, daring our offensive coordinator to go to the run more than is in the game plan. If the Utes do that again, Anae will need to have the courage to take what they are giving. Unga will be relied upon heavily to keep the ball moving. Success in this area will be key.

• Pressure Jordan Wynn. With the Cougar defense, it has been all or nothing as far as pressuring the quarterback. When they have opted to apply pressure, in general opposing quarterbacks have shown cracks and the defense has had success (although a glaring exception is the FSU game). In any case, it is in the best interest of the defensive psyche (and fans for that matter), to make proactive mistakes of aggression, rather than passively sit back and give up essentially the same yardage and big plays by being too conservative. It will be essential to keep the freshman on edge.

Both teams are 9-2. Both teams have shown flashes of brilliance and incompetence at various times throughout the season. This game will be decided by the small things—turnovers, penalties, big third and fourth down conversions, a missed tackle here, a dropped pass there. With all of that in mind, I will refrain from predicting the pace of the game, but only the outcome.

BYU 30  Utah 26

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