BYU football prepares for the biggest game of 2018 looking to end Utah’s winning streak
Just about every BYU and Utah football fan knows — to either their frustration or satisfaction — that the Utes have won seven games in a row in the rivalry series.
The 2018 Cougars enter this week’s showdown with No. 18 Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium as big underdogs, but are confident in their ability to compete with the Utes.
“It’s really competitive,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said earlier this week. “I think there are a lot of people that really care about it — we definitely do. This is an important game to me, an important game to our coaches, an important game to the administration and the fans. Our players are really excited for it. We love the way we’re feeling right now and are building some momentum, so I’m excited for this game and to go up to Rice-Eccles and have a great one Saturday night.”
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the current Ute winnings streak — which is the second longest in the modern era behind the nine-game Cougar winning streak from 1979-87 — is how similar most of the games have been.
Consider the way six of the seven Utah wins have finished:
: BYU trails in the final seconds, then has a field goal blocked to give the Utes the 17-16 win.
: BYU trails in the final seconds before having a field goal attempt blocked and another hit the upright, giving Utah the 24-21 win.
: BYU trails by seven points with under three minutes to play but has a final pass intercepted, giving the Utes the 20-13 win.
: BYU falls behind 35-0 in the first quarter of the Las Vegas Bowl, only to rally and need one more defensive stop to have a chance to tie but the Utes escape with the 35-28 win.
: BYU trails in the final minute, but the Cougars have a chance to take the lead with a two-point conversion, only to come up short and give Utah the 20-19 win.
: BYU trails in the final minute, but has the ball with a chance to take the lead, only to turn the ball over on downs and give the Utes the 19-13 win.
The consistent trend has been that late in the contest, it has been Utah that has had the lead and the Cougars who have been trying to catch up.
It’s a trend that has held true for BYU in 2018 as well.
The two biggest Cougar wins — at Arizona and at Wisconsin — came when BYU headed into the final minutes with the advantages.
When they found themselves in close games in the final moments but were trailing Northern Illinois and Boise State, the outcomes weren’t as favorable.
It’s not that the Cougars might not find some final-play magic this weekend. It’s more that their odds of being victorious elevate if they don’t need it.
The BYU players and coaches are aware of the recent history against the rival Utes, although they approach it differently.
“We want to make sure that everything is ready to go and that we give everything we have for all 60 minutes and if possible more,” Sitake said. “We are always working constantly to try and get the perfect game and it will be a good opportunity to start fast and finish strong. I think it will be a good time for us to play a complete game and maybe our best game of the year. It’s a really important game for us and we’re approaching it that way. We’ll prepare this week with the same mindset and do whatever it takes to get a win.”
Cougar junior safety Austin Lee acknowledged that facing Utah does tend to amp guys up. He said each player has to figure out where the balance is to be at his best.
“I think some guys do play better with big-time adrenaline while others have to be more relaxed,” Lee said. “You have to know who you are as an individual. Some guys, when they have too much adrenaline, they can’t think clearly. Therefore, they aren’t in the right position to make the right plays. For me, I enjoy the adrenaline and I feel like I can be clear with it.”
BYU junior wide receiver Talon Shumway doesn’t get very emotional during games, but knows emotions will run high for many guys during the rivalry contest.
The bottom line, he said, is going to be quite simple:
“The key to winning is outplaying them.” Shumway said. “That’s what it comes down to. You have to play better than they do.”