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SALT LAKE CITY — Normally, we know almost exactly what to expect out of both Utah and BYU entering the annual rivalry game because we've seen them play 10 or 11 games, but this season, we know very little. Here's what we do know.
This Saturday's game is impossible to predict. Anyone who guesses the prediction and score of this game correctly is just that: guessing. This rivalry is so intense and the emotions are so close to the surface that the players’ reactions make it simply too hard to accurately forecast what will happen on Saturday in Provo.
While we can’t tell you for certain what the final score will be, we can tell you some things to look for on Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Here are five storylines to look for when the Utes and the Cougars take the field this weekend.
1. The battle of the quarterbacks.
BYU's Jake Heaps and Utah's Jordan Wynn will not ever be on the field at the same time Saturday night, so they won’t be directly facing off against each other. That said, the question all week has been and will be, “Which quarterback will have the better performance?” Given the early-season lackluster performances by both quarterbacks, it might be more appropriate to ask, “Which quarterback will have the least ugly game?” Clearly, the larger talent set lies with Heaps, but Wynn has the experience and has yet to make a mistake to cost his team. Heaps is the gunslinger, Wynn is the game manager. Who will lead his team to victory Saturday night?
2. Will the game mean as much as it used to?
Many people are speculating that the intensity of this rivalry will be lessened with its move closer to Labor Day than Thanksgiving. This game should mean more to the Cougars, who are seemingly consigned to the Armed Forces Bowl at this point while the Utes could lose this game and still compete for the Pac-12 South Division. There are more question marks surrounding both teams with this game in September as opposed to November, so the fans don’t know their teams as much as they usually do heading into this game. Will the intensity at Lavell Edwards Stadium decrease with the increased temperatures? We’ll see Saturday night.
3. Downfield dilemma
Both of these teams have indicated a desire to increase their ability to throw the ball downfield. Thus far, Utah has been unable to do it, although they didn’t try at all against Montana State. USC has more speed in their secondary than anyone on Utah’s schedule, but the Utes were trying to throw the ball downfield. BYU, on the other hand, has not tried much to throw it downfield. Cougar fans are wondering if Robert Anae is hiding in the press box calling the plays instead of Brandon Doman. Maybe Doman is just waiting to trust Heaps a little more before opening up the vertical passing game. This might be the week he lets loose with a very young secondary on the other side of the ball. Utah has very fast and athletic receivers, so this might be the week Wynn finally gets on schedule with them.
4. Cooled runnings?
Both defensive front sevens in this game are impressive. Utah didn’t really have a choice to abandon the run game against USC after John White, who had been less than effective, succumbed to muscle cramps. Meanwhile, BYU can’t decide who their running back is. The Cougars have averaged 67 yards rushing in their first two games. That makes for for 113th in the nation out of 120 teams. If neither team can get the running game going — which may be likely —both front sevens are going to pin their ears back and come after the opposing quarterbacks. That might mean a low-scoring, offensively frustrating game for both teams and fan bases. Whoever can establish a running game of any sort may have the upper hand in this game.
5. Who’s who?
Neither of these teams have found their identities yet. Doman promised the old BYU offense and has yet to deliver. Norm Chow’s offense has not been a shadow of what it was at USC or BYU. Both fan bases might just have to settle for Big Ten types of teams in 2011: quarterbacks who manage the game, offenses who struggle to score, defenses who dominate. Eventually, both offenses should get off the ground, at least to some extent — Utah’s when Wynn gets healthy and BYU’s when Heaps gets under control. Fans are looking forward to this game for the obvious rivalry reasons, but also to find out who these two teams are.
Trevor Amicone is the sports director at 88.1 Weber FM "Ogden's Radio Station" and host of the sports talk radio show, "Fully Loaded Sports with Trevor Amicone". To check out more blogs, go to trevorstoptens.com.