SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Rivalry week has arrived.
The Utes have already clinched the Pac-12 South title, and are gearing up for their first Pac-12 Championship Game on November 30, but head coach Kyle Whittingham isn’t going to hold anything back as the Utes try to make it eight straight wins over BYU this Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
When asked if he would hold out any starters to avoid risking injury, Whittingham balked at the idea.
“I don’t know how you sell that to your players, saying that we’re going to sit everybody and not let you have a chance to finish the season, particularly to the seniors,” he said. “I guess an analogy is thoroughbred horses. They love to run. That’s what they do. They’re born to run and that’s what they enjoy. Our players are warriors and they’re born to compete.”
The rivalry has lost some of its luster over the years, but it still means a lot to both teams and both fan bases.
“I think there’s a lot of people who care about it,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake, who has coached on both sides. “We definitely do. This is an important game to me, an important game to our coaches, our administration, our fans especially.”
“It’s very important,” added BYU wide receiver Micah Simon. “It’s the most important game of the year to us, to the coaches, and the fans know it too.”
Is this the most important game of the year for the Utes? Wide receiver Britain Covey doesn’t think so.
“For them, I think it is,” Covey said. “That’s all I’ll say. I think things that have to do with the Pac-12 take precedence.”
After last week’s 45-10 win over New Mexico State, the Cougars are already bowl eligible, so their main motivation in this game is to end their 7-game losing streak in the rivalry.
“We’re excited to go out and break that streak,” said BYU offensive lineman Austin Hoyt. “For us, it’s just puts an extra little chip in our shoulder just knowing that they’re coming in with a lot of momentum.”
“I can’t tell you how many years it’s been,” Simon said. “But we know that it needs to change. We will use that as motivation this week.”
“There’s a lot of pressure,” said Utah offensive lineman Lo Falemaka. “We don’t want to be that class that ends that winning streak against BYU. So, it’s not going to be this class.”
Utah opened as a 13.5 point favorite to make it eight straight wins in the rivalry, but the Cougars are relishing their underdog role.
“Not a lot of people are picking us to win, but that’s OK,” Sitake said. “I don’t mind being in this position, so we’ll see what happens.”
Utah and BYU will kick off at 8:00 p.m. Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.