There’s nothing like a Holy War on Thanksgiving weekend.
But I’m not talking about the war between your atheist cousin and your religious conservative grandfather during grace before dinner. We’re talking about the Mormon Holy War as BYU battles Utah once again.
Odds-makers seem to love the Utes at home in this installment of the old rivalry.
Who: Brigham Young Cougars at Utah Utes
When: Saturday, November 24th, 10:00 PM EST
Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
Lines: BYU (+11) at Utah (-11) / O/U Total: (44)
BYU has had an up and down campaign in 2018. The Cougars took down Arizona to start the season, then stunned a Wisconsin team that, at the time, was ranked #6 in the nation. It also bears noting that the Cougars’ losses on the season have been to good teams.
Freshman QB Zach Wilson, who replaced incumbent senior QB Tanner Mangum mid-season, has been solid with 1,057 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs, and has a completion percentage of just over 60%. Senior RB Squally Canada has had struggles staying healthy this season, however, and is questionable going into Saturday’s game. Freshman RB Lopini Katoa made the most of his starting opportunity last week against New Mexico State, grinding for 155 yards and 4 TDs against the Aggies.
Defensively the Cougars have been stout in 2018, ranking 22nd in FBS in points allowed per game. They also rank 25th and 34th in rushing yards allowed and passing yards allowed respectively. Head Coach Kalani Sitake’s group has played very well outside of giving up a crooked number against Utah State earlier in the season.
Senior DL Corbin Kaufusi leads the team in sacks with 8.5. Unfortunately for the Cougars, Kaufusi was lost for the season to a foot injury. BYU will look to Sione Takitaki, who has 88 tackles and 2 sacks this year, to help pick up the slack after the loss of the star defensive lineman.
Utah is having another solid campaign. The 17th-ranked Utes are 8-3 in 2018, 6-3 in conference, and have already punched their ticket to the 2018 PAC 12 championship game representing the South division.
RB Zack Moss is one of the more underrated backs in the country. The junior has 1,092 yards and 11 TDs on the ground in 2018 and has added another TD receiving. He’s eclipsed 100 yards in his past 3 games and even hung over 200 yards and 3 TDs on UCLA 2 weeks ago. That’s impressive, as the Bruins have blossomed into a very competitive Pac-12 unit over the past several weeks.
Junior QB Tyler Huntley had a solid year going, throwing for 1,788 yards and a dozen TDs. But a collarbone injury ended his season a few weeks ago, paving the way for freshman Jason Shelley to take over. Shelley had a nice game in the snow against Colorado last weekend with 221 yards through the air, 2 TDs, and no picks.
Kyle Whittingham’s teams almost always have great defenses and 2018 is no exception. The Utes are 16th in the nation in points allowed. Utah is a respectable 55th in FBS in passing yards allowed and an impressive 5th in rushing yards surrendered. Junior DL Bradlee Anae leads the Utes in sacks with 7. Sophomore DB Jaylon Johnson leads the secondary with 4 INTs as Utah has earned a turnover margin of +2 for the season.
UteZone ranks Johnson’s TD against Stanford as a season-defining moment:
It all turned around on one play: Jaylon Johnson’s pick six. The Utes entered a road game against a ranked Stanford team with an 0-2 conference record and a lot of questions about how the team was going to recover. Stanford boasted one of the best receiving threats in the Pac-12 in J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a player that had been close to unstoppable in the red zone. And with Stanford’s first red zone appearance, the entire stadium anticipated a back shoulder throw to Arcega-Whiteside. Jaylon Johnson anticipated it too. And he stepped in front of the pass, picked it off and raced 100+ yards down the sideline for a Utah touchdown. The play set the tone for a huge road win for the Utes and in some ways signaled to the world that Utah’s season was about to turn for the better.
Utah returned home to face Arizona on a short week and proved that the Stanford game was no fluke. The Utes exploded to a 28-0 halftime lead. The icing on the cake for the Utah offensive resurgence was a trick play. On the Utes’ first drive of the third quarter, Britain Covey took a pitch from Demari Simpkins on a double reverse and tossed a 58 yard touchdown strike to a streaking Tyler Huntley. The play was executed perfectly and the Utes’ offensive output put the rest of the conference on notice that this Utah squad was putting things together.
Can they put it together 1 more time before bowl season?
Odds-makers and the gambling public are correct to install Utah as the substantial spread favorite. But (-11) is a tricky line since the Utes would be happy to kneel down 3 times for a 10-point win.
I’m liking the Over (44) instead. A low number for a college football game, the line assumes that BYU won’t play inspired offense behind a new QB who is ultimately an upgrade…and that Utah’s defense can’t score or set up easy points on its own. Stanford would beg to differ.
Take the high side of the total for a Holy War winner.