OC'S CORNER

O’Connell: What A Win Would Mean For BYU, Utah

Aug 29, 2019, 12:12 PM | Updated: 12:14 pm
Defensive back Tevin Carter #9 of the Utah Utes runs for yardage against offensive lineman Brad Wil...
Defensive back Tevin Carter #9 of the Utah Utes runs for yardage against offensive lineman Brad Wilcox #75 and wide receiver Terenn Houk #11 of the Brigham Young Cougars after Carter made his second interception of the game during the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on December 19, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s easy to write a reaction column to a big game AFTER the game has happened. So I am writing this one before we know the outcome of BYU-UTAH (with all bases covered).

If Utah wins, the reaction might look something like this…

“#NineHasCome…”

A Win For The Utes

Utah’s win over BYU is a feather in the cap for Kyle Whittingham, whose decade-old promise to never lose to the Cougars again still rings true. I imagine this Utah team was feeling more relief than elation on the bus home from Provo Thursday night, but there is plenty of reason to celebrate.

The poise demonstrated by a Utah team bearing the weight of unprecedented expectations in earning another hard-fought rivalry win is exactly what Kyle Whittingham’s boys will need to display on a weekly basis if they hope to live up to the hype.

A victory over BYU is only the first step in what promises to be a long journey through the 2019 season.  Several significant tests still lie ahead for the Utes, who have already garnered attention from college football playoff prognosticators, against all odds.

It’s hard to judge just how good this team actually is heading into the 2019 campaign with only the film from an emotional rivalry to work off of. But one thing is certain, in order to deliver on unprecedented hype and lofty expectations, this Utah team is going to need to play mistake-free football the rest of the way and put the unnecessary penalties behind them.

The gelling of the offensive line is still a work in progress, but the time to get that dialed in is running short, with the Pac-12 opener against a talented (and probably desperate) USC team less than thirty days away.

Overall, a solid win for the Utes, and one that is much more meaningful to their fan base than to the team itself, who now heads back to Rice-Eccles to face a Northern Illinois team that gave them fits a year ago. “Nine has come,” but the work is far from done.

A Loss For BYU

For BYU, the ninth straight loss in the rivalry series comes as a frustrating reminder of the disparity in talent and depth after an off-season full of optimism. Coach Kalani Sitake’s decision to make beating Utah the sole focus of 2019 was a double-edged sword that now runs the risk slaying the Cougars’ entire season, even as it’s just beginning.

Fans in Provo will be forced to endure the “9 in a row” chants from Utah faithful for another year, but more importantly, they may now suffer through the uncertainty of what’s happening with a coaching staff that only weeks ago they were so sure would be the answer to all of the program’s woes.

Kalani is in the last year of his contract, and still winless against his in-state rival. Letting that be the end of his run would be the wrong decision for BYU football, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility, given the desire to be on the same page with Power-5 programs.

In the world of big-boy college football, winning championships is only slightly more important than winning rivalry games, and the Cougars don’t have a championship option. Now, the reeling Cougars will have to refocus and get ready for a gauntlet of football blue-bloods in Tennessee, USC, and Washington before heading out to tough trips against underrated Toledo and then South Florida. 65,000 strong showed up screaming for the opener, will they still be out in full force when the Huskies roll into town?

BUT there is also a very real possibility in my mind that BYU shocks the college football world with a win in week one, which would of course mean…

What A Win Over Utah Means For BYU

Rise and Shout indeed! BYU’s long, crimson nightmare is finally over. After a decade in the shadow of their in-state rival, the Cougars have found their deliverer in Wunderkind QB Zach Wilson.

Popular opinion and scientific analysis will tell you that BYU is no longer equipped to compete with the Utes, especially this Utah team, but stellar QB play and a fanatical crowd of 65,000+ proved to be neutralizers that the over-confident and over-hyped Utes were just not ready for.

The assumed dominance of Utah’s defensive front was stymied by a Cougars offensive line full of players looking to build their own future-NFL resumes. This win plants a flag for Kalani Sitake and his coaching staff. If there was any doubt about whether or not he was the right man for the job at BYU, it evaporated into the Provo night along with Utah’s hopes at inclusion in the College Football Playoff. I fully expect an announcement of Kalani’s contract extension before close-of-business on Friday.

The challenge now for BYU is to maintain this level of physicality and dynamic playmaking throughout the season. They’ve shown us what they are capable of in knocking off a top-15 Power Five program, but it won’t be easy to sustain the intensity and focus with a season-defining win already under their belts after week one.

Armed with the confidence that comes from reversing a horrific rivalry trend, expect this BYU team to carry a different sort of swagger into the next three daunting weeks.

Strangely, BYU fans now find themselves in a tough spot; because now they must root for the reviled Utes to turn things around and find success in Pac-12 play. An early season win over a team that underachieves drastically doesn’t do much for the Cougars reputation, but if the Utes go on to play for –and maybe even win – a Pac-12 championship, the upset in week one will carry a weight similar to BYU’s historic upsets of Miami and Oklahoma. Either way, the rivalry is renewed in a way many though it never would be.

Utah’s Season After Loss To BYU

For Utah, the loss to BYU is a devastating reminder that every week in college football is a test with potentially disastrous consequences. Only those inside of the program know if the Utes were drinking their own Kool-Aid, but it’s hard to imagine this loss being the result of anything else.

Thursday night, the Utes found themselves victims of a taste of their own medicine. For years, Kyle Whittingham teams found ways to beat more talented opponents because of things like scheme, discipline, a little luck, but above all, effort.

The chip-on-the-shoulder mentality of a perennial Pac-12 underdog was absent in the Utes at LaVell Edward’s stadium, and that identity crisis ultimately proved to be their undoing. It was BYU who played the proverbial David to Utah’s Goliath.

The Utes now find themselves in an odd situation where perhaps the loftiest goal of the season can be crossed off the list, but every other milestone can still be reached. If Utah can find a way to compartmentalize a loss as emotional as this one, they may still very well have what it takes to win the Pac-12 and make a trip to the Rose Bowl.

There is time to regroup before Pac-12 play begins, but is any amount of time enough to wash away the disappointment and embarrassment that comes with letting your rival steal the thunder from your season in week one?

-There, now that you’ve read this before the game even happens, you can skip the reactions and just enjoy your win (or lament your loss) over the long weekend.

Utes 38 Cougs 27.  Happy Gameday Everyone!!!

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