PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – How much is BYU looking forward to Thursday night’s showdown against Utah?
“I don’t know if we’ve ever felt this strongly about an opening game,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake.
The Cougars will try to win their first game in the rivalry since 2009, a span of eight straight losses.
BYU safety Austin Lee has played on both sides of the rivalry, and he knows it can be challenging to keep emotions in check.
“The emotions are a little big higher than normal,” said Lee, who transferred from Utah. “But, I think I’m getting a little bit more used to it and being able to handle those emotions. Just being able to make sure I’m assignment sound, rather than so emotional towards the game.”
Emotions couldn’t have been lower after last year’s game when the Cougars blew a 20-point lead. But the Cougars say they learned they can compete with the highly-touted Utes.
“Going through a game like that and all that emotion, we realized we know what we have to do to beat these guys,” said tight end Matt Bushman. “So it’s not like we have to be afraid of these guys, and we don’t need to shy away from anything. It’s just a great opportunity to showcase who we are as a team.”
In fact, the Cougars say they’re happy all the preseason hype is on the Utes, who have been picked to win the Pac-12 title this year. The Cougars relish the roll of the underdog.
“I’m glad that they’re ranked 14th right now,” said Lee. “I’m happy, because it’s just an opportunity for us to show who we are.”
“They deserve this hype,” added linebacker Zayne Anderson. “I mean, they have really good players and coaches. But, quite honestly, it doesn’t matter what they’re ranked. Especially for this first game because we haven’t even played a down yet.”
This is also an early opportunity to see how good the Cougars are.
“A lot of experts and analysts have chimed in on where they seem them fitting in the scope of college football,” said Sitake. “So, let’s see where we fit.”
The Cougars hope to find success running the ball with new starting running back Ty’Son Williams, who won the job over Emmanuel Esukpa and Lopini Katoa.
“I think overall, he performed the best in the competition,” Sitake said. “We felt like [Esukpa] and Lopini were right there with him, but we felt like he earned that spot the right way in the competition. In the long run, Ty’Son earned it. Hopefully there will be opportunities to see all three of those guys perform.”