After a one-year hiatus, Utah and BYU will renew their rivalry series in Provo this weekend.
Can the No. 21 Utes (1-0) maintain their recent supremacy in the Holy War? Utah certainly seems poised to do it after dominating Weber State for a 40-17 victory in its season opener. The Utes showed an offensive balance they lacked at times last season behind efficient play from new quarterback Charlie Brewer. Defensively, they held the Wildcats in check for four quarters — limiting Weber State to 57 rushing yards.
The Cougars (1-0) are eager to turn the page to a new chapter in the Holy War. BYU never trailed on its way to beating Arizona 24-16 in its season opener in Las Vegas. The Cougars took a quarter to get on track offensively but got solid production from new quarterback Jaren Hall. BYU gave up a ton of yards on defense but short-circuited multiple Wildcat drives with a trio of third-down sacks. It kept Arizona from fully erasing an 18-point third-quarter deficit.
Utah leads the rivalry series 62-34-4. The Utes have won nine straight games over BYU dating back to 2010, the final season both teams competed in the Mountain West Conference.
No. 21 Utah at BYU
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 10:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Utah -6.5
When Utah Has the Ball
In his Utah debut, Brewer threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes. That's the sort of quarterback production that will make the Utes the team to beat in the Pac-12 South if it remains consistent. Brewer played with the poise of a veteran against Weber State, keeping his eyes downfield and making the right reads at the right times. He has a track record for doing big things on offense and has enough quality receivers and tight ends at his disposal to pick lesser defenses apart.
Utah is still technically taking a running-back-by-committee approach, but the picture in the backfield became much clearer after week one. Tavion Thomas ran for 107 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 8.9 yards per carry. His combination of speed and power is exactly what the Utes need in a running back. Thomas did have a fumble, though, leaving the door open for other running backs to make their mark until his ball security improves. Freshman Micah Bernard will likely have a big role in the backfield as the season progresses, both as a runner and receiving threat. Bernard totaled 76 all-purpose yards against Weber State.
BYU gave up huge chunks of passing yardage to Arizona, which seemingly plays right into Utah's hands. The Cougars allowed 337 yards through the air in Week 1, which ranked 120th among FBS schools. Only a trio of third-down sacks to kill drives kept the Cougars from getting gashed on the scoreboard. A veteran offensive line should help the Utes to contain pressure on Brewer.
When BYU Has the Ball
Hall found a groove against Arizona after a pair of rough series and ended up throwing for 198 yards and two touchdowns while completing 64 percent of his passes. His mobility and elusiveness in the pocket kept plays alive and helped diffuse defensive pressure from the Wildcats. Hall leaned heavily on Neil Pau'u to make plays downfield and Pau'u delivered. He tallied a career-high 126 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions. With Gunner Romney sidelined and transfers Puka Nacua and Samson Nacua not at 100 percent, BYU and Hall will likely count on Pau'u to shoulder a big role again.
It will help the Cougars if Tyler Allgeier can have a big day on the ground. Allgeier opened the season with 94 yards and a touchdown against Arizona. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Allgeier is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season and makes BYU difficult to defend when he can attack seams and holes and rip off chunk yardage.
BYU's success will come down to how well the Cougars perform on passing plays. Hall will have to make plays with his arm because running against the Utes is a non-starter. Utah has led the Pac-12 in rushing defense each of the past three seasons and limited Weber State to just 57 total rushing yards — even though the Wildcats had a two-time FCS All-American in the backfield.
Both Utah and BYU were a little rough around the edges in their respective season openers and should be improved in Week 2. The problem for the Cougars is that the Utes have a considerable edge in all three phases of the game. BYU will play tough, inspired football. But so will Utah. And, ultimately, the talent gap in terms of quality depth and experience will favor the Utes as the game progresses. Utah's odds of becoming the first team to win 10 straight games in the Holy War look quite favorable.
Prediction: Utah 30, BYU 17
Podcast: Week 2 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread
– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.