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What you need to know: BYU vs Utah (Bowl Edition)

For the first time in the history of the rivalry, the Holy War will take place on a neutral field, and in a bowl game.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The History

The history between the BYU Cougars and Utah Utes is quite unique as even the schools do not agree on the win-loss record. According to the University of Utah, the teams started playing in 1896 when BYU was still Brigham Young Academy.  If we count these games the record stands at 57-34-4 for Utah. According to BYU the first game was in 1922 which would put the series at 54-31-4 for Utah.  Regardless of the actual number, the series has been a long standing tradition in the state of Utah. The Utes dominated the series early by winning 41 of the first 53 games.  Next came the Lavell glory years from 1972-1992 where BYU won 19 of the 21 meetings.  Since 1993 the Utes have taken back control of the series by winning 14 to the Cougars 7 with a 4 game win streak going into Saturday's game. The largest margin of victory for the teams is only separated by one point. In 1922 the Utes beat the Cougars by 49 with a score of 49-0 and in 1980 the Cougars beat the Utes by 50 with a score of 56-6. Regardless of the records and scores, the Cougars and Utes are now in uncharted territory as they are not only playing against each other in a bowl game for the first time, they are also playing each other on a neutral field for the first time in the history of the programs. Here are a few of the highlight games that have taken place:

Cougar Stadium- Provo, Utah 1989

In 1989 BYU was trying to forget the beating Utah handed to them in the 1988 win 57-28.  With Ty Detmer leading the charge, the Cougars scored the first 49 points of the game in the first half of play.  Just before halftime the Utes scored their first touchdown.  By the end of the game the Cougars had racked up over 750 yards of offense in route to a 70-31 final.  The totals could be much worse but Lavell put in the reserves which gave up three fourth quarter touchdowns.  The combined total still stands as a record with 101 points.

Rice-Eccles Stadium-Salt Lake City, Utah 2000

In a game that will be remembered as Lavell Edwards last game, the Cougars travelled up to Salt Lake needing a win to prevent a losing season. The Cougars were led by quarterback Brandon Doman but managed to get off to a very slow start. With his first pass of the game being intercepted, and returned for a touchdown, the Cougars were down early. BYU managed to put the pick behind them and held the Utes to a field goal for the rest of the half.  With 13 points in the first quarter and six more in the second, the Cougars held a 19-10 lead at the break.

After a Doman to Mike Rigell 36 yard touchdown, BYU led 26-10. The Utes owned the fourth quarter as they scored 17 unanswered points to take the lead with just over two minutes left in the game. At this point Doman took over the game. Facing a fourth and 13 from inside their own 20, Doman scrambled and found Jonathan Pittman for a 34 yard bomb and the first down. On the next play, Doman found Pittman again for a 36 yard gain. Two plays later Doman found his way into the endzone for a four-yard rush that put the Cougars up by two. After converting the two-point conversion, the final score was reached at 34-27. In a ceremony before the game, Utah coach Ron McBride showed his respect and friendship for Edwards by presenting gifts from the University of Utah to Lavell recognizing his retirement.

Lavell Edwards Stadium- Provo, Utah 2011

In a game that was messy from the first play of the game, the Cougars couldn't overcome seven turnovers, with most leading to Utah points.  On BYU's first possession of the game, a bad snap was recovered by Utah in the endzone for a 7-0 lead.  The Cougars would take their first lead of the game with just over six minutes left in the half when Jake Heaps connected with Ross Apo for a 32-yard touchdown.  Leading 10-7 the Cougar defense gave up a 30-yard pass from Jordan Wynn to Jake Murphy to put the Utes up at the half 14-10.

The second half was all Utah as they started off their first possession of the half with a 59 yard touchdown from Wynn to Dres Anderson.  As the defense began to tire, and the offense continued to give the ball up, the Utes continued to put up the points.  When the game was over the Utes ended up scoring the final 47 points of the game in a 54-10 dismantling of the Cougars.

Ric-Eccles Stadium- Salt Lake City, Utah 2006

In a game that holds the distinction of ending with the number one play in BYU history, as voted on by the fans and BYUtv, John Beck solidified his player of the year award in the Mountain West.  The 21st ranked Cougars started early by marching 83 yards, ending with a Manase Tonga one-yard touchdown run, and then 83 yards again which ended with a 36-yard pass from Beck to Jonny Harline.

In the second quarter the Utes scored after a fake punt at midfield led to a first down and then Eric Weddle entered to play quarterback and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brent Casteel.  The Cougars would not score again in the half but the Utes would add a field goal as time expired.

The third quarter was all Utah as Brett Ratliff threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Marquis Wilson that gave the Utes their first lead.  With the Cougars not scoring in the third quarter, and Utah passing for another touchdown, the Utah lead was 24-14 going into the fourth quarter.

Shortly into the fourth , BYU drove 79 yards that ended with a pass from Beck to a jumping Harline, who out-jumped Weddle for a touchdown.  After a defensive stop with about ten minutes left in the game, BYU drove 90 yards that ended with a Beck to Daniel Coats two-yard touchdown.  The drive took more than six minutes off the clock and put the Cougars in a good position to win the game.  With Utah down 27-24 they converted on a fourth and two from their own 25 before a long pass play to Casteel set up the subsequent 19 yard screen play for the go-ahead touchdown.  With little time left the Cougars had to drive most of the field for a chance to win.  Beck to Harline was the storyline of the drive as the connected numerous times, including a fourth and four.

The last play of the game has been commonly referred to as "the answered prayer", and even has a children's book memorializing the game.  Before you read on, you may want to brush up and see the play by clicking here.   With three seconds on the game-clock, Beck hopped left across the field before sprinting right after being chased by a defender.  As he ran right he noticed Harline had been left alone in the right side of the end zone.  Beck turned back abruptly and threw the ball across his body to a sliding and kneeling Harline.  As the stunned defenders, and fans, stood around in shock Bronco and his team celebrated an emotional win.  Besides the ending play, one of the most memorable photos that came out of the game was John Beck with his arm resting on the helmet of Eric Weddle and Weddle draping his arm across Becks back.  Even with the emotion of the game, there was room for congratulations and condolences.

The Outlook

This year was supposed to be the second of a two year hiatus for the teams. Fate however intervened and threw the teams together for the bowl game. The Cougars are excited to be in the Las Vegas bowl instead of the Hawaii bowl, while the Utes are disappointed that a number of bowls passed over them for lesser ranked teams. As if this wasn't enough, the Cougars are playing not only for the 100th win for Bronco Mendenhall but to try and send him off to Virginia with a win. Needless to say the game will be interesting as it is difficult to predict which teams will show up for the next installment of the rivalry game.

The Positives

The Cougars are coming off a big win against the Utah State Aggies in their last game, but more importantly, they are coming off a difficult season with a chance to win 10 games. Tanner Mangum has thrilled the crowds, won a Freshman of the Year award, and will play in his first Holy war. The receivers, led by Mitch Mathews, have made plays and are looking forward to make more in Vegas.

The Negatives

The Cougars are saying all the right things to the media, but there has to be a question about how they will come out mentally and emotionally for this game. The seniors would like nothing more than to beat the Utes once in their careers, and that could lead to trying too hard to make a play. With six coaches following Bronco to Virginia you also have to wonder how focused the players and coaches are on the game. We know they have been putting in the hours but how much of an affect will the distraction impact the game preparation is yet to be seen.

The Match-up

The key match-up in this meeting will be the Utah defensive line against the Cougars offensive line. The Cougars will be looking to protect Mangum and give him some time to make plays through the air, while the Utes will be looking to rattle the young quarterback and force him into bad passes and turnovers. If the Cougars are going to win the game, they must not only give him time, but they need to open up some holes for the running backs to take some of the pressure of the passing game.

The Keys to Watch

When the Utes have the ball:

Watch for the Cougars to focus on stopping the run first and putting a spy on Travis Wilson. The Cougars feel confident that they have had one of their best groups in the secondary in years. The defense will be happy to pit their secondary up against the Utah passing game, as long as they can make the offense one dimensional.

Watch for Utah to give the Cougars a big dose of Joe Williams. Williams has come in strong for the injured Devontae Booker, with most of his 386 yards coming in the last two games. If Williams can get the running game going against the Cougars, it opens up the run for Wilson as well as the pass over the top. Another wild card will be if Britain Covey can play as he brings another dimension to the offense that the Cougars will need to defend.

When the Cougars have the ball:

Watch for Cougars to test the front seven of the Utes as they try and feel for weaknesses that Algernon Brown, Francis Bernard, and Riley Burt can exploit as they try to open up the field for Mathews, Devon Blackman, and Nick Kurtz. Watch for the Cougars to continue to gain most of their yards through the air behind the arm of Mangum. Watch for a few more roll-outs as the Cougars try to give him some extra time to throw. Don't be surprised as well if we see Squally Canada in for a few plays if the right opportunity presents as he is eligible for the bowl game.

Watch for the Utes to rush from everywhere on the field as they try to rattle the offensive line and Mangum. The defense for the Utes will use the pattern set by the Michigan defense against the Cougars and play physical at the line, forcing the receivers to fight through, which disrupts the timing of the offense. Watch for the Utes to keep Mangum in the pocket as much as possible so they can force him to hold onto the ball too long and take coverage sacks.

Next Meeting

The next meeting is set for September 10th, 2016 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

The Broadcasting Details

Where: Sam Boyd Stadium-Las Vegas, Nevada

When: 1:30 pm MST


Internet: WatchESPN

Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143

Radio(Utah): KALL 700 AM

Listen Live via Internet(KSL): Click Here