The first time.
Regardless of the situation, if it be starting a new job or taking a new special someone out on a date, experiencing something for the first time is unpredictable. You can approach the situation with boatloads of false bravado, but deep down inside there is always some level of nervous tension that can throw you off your game.
Sure, all of your jokes and cracks of wise might have worked with your previous beau or boss, but this is unfamiliar territory and you don’t know how things will play out. As much as you want to draw on previous experience to boost your confidence, the uncertainty will keep you off balance.
This is no different in the game of football.
If you watched any minute of the game between Miami and Florida on Saturday night you saw just how, uh, messing things can during the first game of the season. Miami’s offensive line froze up. Florida’s defensive backs forgot that pass interference was not allowed during a crucial fourth quarter drive. Florida’s quarterback, Feleipe Franks, looked directly into a sideline camera to say “I DO THIS” and proceeded to enter the game and throw an impossibly bone-headed interception that nearly cost the Gators the game.
There were definitely some flashes of brilliance but there is no doubt that game was UGLY. What’s wild is that both of those teams fielded teams full of four and five star talent, but at times it looked like the Layton 27th ward’s Thanksgiving flag football game. What was it that reduced these future pro-prospects and finely-tuned athletes to the JV squad?
It was the first game of the season. And adding fuel to that already burning fire of chaos was the kindling of an in-state rivalry.
Miami and Florida don’t face off regularly like they used to, but it was evident that there was no love lost between those two teams. A lot of players were recruited by both schools and former high school teammates were facing off against one another. Even the coaching staffs were looking across the sidelines at familiar foes.
This is all sounding really familiar, isn’t it?
There is a very special energy surrounding the Holy War game, one that was historically played at the very end of the regular season. Thanks to conference realignment it has been bounced around, but if you look at the matchups between BYU and Utah that happen early in the season, you’ll find a pattern. Those games are usually, uh, not appealing to the eye. Let’s review quickly...
- 2011 - The first year that the Cougars and Utes faced off in a month that wasn’t November and one team showed up and the other was led by Jake Heaps. You remember the score.
- 2012 - Utah took a 24-7 lead into the 4th quarter and nearly blew it after their fans prematurely rushed the field, giving BYU multiple shots at a game-tying field goal which was missed because of course. Even Utah fans will agree this one wasn’t their finest hour.
- 2013 - BYU was still trying to understand what it mean to “go hard and go fast” while Utah was content to settle for 20 points. This one wasn’t just ugly, it was boring.
- 2016 - This game featured nine turnovers and was decided by a botched two-point conversion attempt. Yuck.
- 2017 - The Utah offense did a great job at getting into position for Matt Gay field goals but that was about it. Even worse was BYU’s offense, one that caused half the fan base to consult their doctor about a Zoloft prescription.
Utah fans will remember those games with much fondness because they won and BYU fans will want to forget them because they lost, but both sides should be able to come to an agreement that the early season versions of the Holy War are sloppy. That’s not to say that the late season versions are models of perfect football execution, but at least those games featured teams that looked a little more competent.
So when the Cougars and Utes take the field on Thursday don’t expect a symposium of football perfection. Utah will be breaking in a new offensive coordinator and BYU will have a few new faces of defense getting their first real cracks in a rivalry game. Utah will be replacing a few starters on the offensive line and BYU’s kicker could be lining up for the game winner after nearly 3 years since his last meaningful attempt.
Neither side should use this as an excuse, but rather as a caution. There will be plenty of quality football games this season, but are odds are this won’t be pretty no matter who comes out on top.
Consider yourself warned.