On the Other Sidelines: 8 Questions with The Daily Universe

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On the Other Sidelines: 8 Questions with The Daily Universe

Fred Warner during the game against Portland State

Fred Warner during the game against Portland State

Ari Davis/The Daily Universe

Fred Warner during the game against Portland State

Ari Davis/The Daily Universe

Ari Davis/The Daily Universe

Fred Warner during the game against Portland State

By Brittni Meservy

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It’s that time of the year – The Holy War is back. To preview the rivalry between the University of Utah and the Brigham Young Cougars, The Daily Utah Chronicle spoke to Josh Ellis, the sports editor of The Daily Universe, the BYU student newspaper, to discuss the upcoming matchup.

Q: With the game in Provo this season, what kind of effect will that have on both teams?

JE: Expect a raucous atmosphere at LaVell Edwards Stadium this year. BYU fans are craving a win against their in-state rival and the students will be back in full force for their first home game (the semester started after the Portland State game). However, if there’s one team on the Cougars’ schedule that wouldn’t be rattled by the crowd, it’s Utah. They’ve been here before and they’ve won here before.

Q: What do you think it will ultimately come down to in who wins this matchup?

JE: For me, it comes down to capitalizing on turnovers. Forcing giveaways from your opponent can swing the momentum and change games, especially rivalry games. In the last two games, BYU lost the ball eight times, leading directly to three Utah touchdowns. Utah lost the ball six times last year alone, but BYU scored just two field goals from those turnovers. Both sides will come into the game with strong defenses that know how to force mistakes from the other’s offense. If BYU can avoid turnovers and rattle Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley, it could make the ultimate difference in a tight game. If Utah can get into BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum’s head and protect Huntley, the offense could fall apart quickly for the Cougars.

Q: Which Cougars do the Utes need to be prepared to go up against and why?

JE: Matt Bushman, freshman, tight end: Bushman impressed in fall camp and followed that up with three catches for 56 yards in the season opener. The 6-foot-5, 230 pound Tucson, Arizona, native can be challenging for corners and safeties to defend with his size and for linebackers with his speed. Fred Warner, senior, linebacker: Warner led the Cougars with 86 total tackles last season and added three interceptions. His physicality will help bolster BYU’s run defense while his speed and knowledge of the game makes him a threat in guarding the pass. Sione Takitaki, junior, defensive line: Takitaki is returning from a redshirt and has already incorporated himself into defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki’s system. He had two sacks against Portland State and will look to be a big part in slowing down Utah’s offense.

Q: What do you think Utah is capable of doing that might trouble BYU?

JE: I think Utah has the potential to shut down BYU’s run game and disrupt the entire offense. While the Cougars have gone back to a traditional pass-first offense with quarterback Mangum returning, things could get uneasy in the Cougar backfield if BYU can’t establish any presence on the ground.

Q: Do you think this game will be more of an offensive or defensive battle?

JE: Defensive. Anytime Kalani Sitake and Kyle Whittingham are involved in a game, expect a slugfest that features big plays from either’s defense. Given the rivalry’s recent history, plays on defense have made game-winning differences. Last year’s game was decided by Utah’s stand on BYU’s two-point conversion attempt, and points scored by Utah’s defense made the difference in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl.

Q: Mangum has played against Utah (Las Vegas Bowl ’15), but Huntley hasn’t faced BYU. How do you think the two of them will perform in this atmosphere?

JE: Regardless of playing time, every player on both sides knows about the rivalry and what it means to the players, coaches and fans. Mangum will be hungry to redeem his first quarter performance from the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl, and he’ll be motivated after watching last year’s defeat in Salt Lake City from the sideline. I think he’ll be cautious to open the game. If Mangum can string a few passes together and find a deep threat or two, things could really open up for him. For Huntley, this will be a good test of his nerves and prepare him for trips to USC, Oregon and Washington. If BYU can get to him in the backfield early on, it will be a long night for the sophomore quarterback. If the protection is there and Huntley can hit a few receivers to open the game, I think he settles in just fine.

Q: BYU hasn’t won the rivalry game since 2009, what does it need to do in order to beat Utah and put an end to its losing streak?

JE: First, don’t throw an interception on the first play of the game. The Cougars spotted Utah two touchdowns in the first eight minutes of the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl and one on the very first play from the line of scrimmage last season. With six of the last seven games being decided by a touchdown or less, mistakes like these are costly. Second, utilize the tight ends. In BYU’s last win against Utah, Andrew George and Dennis Pitta, both tight ends, led the Cougars in receiving yards, and George caught the game-winning touchdown in overtime. This year’s tight ends include Bushman, Moroni Laulu-Pututau and Tanner Balderree, and all three have shown they can make plays. If the Cougars’ offense can find the tight ends consistently, Utah will have to decide whether or not to devote extra coverage to the middle of the field, which would open up BYU’s wide receivers.

Q: Who do you think will win? And why?

JE: At the end of the day, a home game with an experienced quarterback and talented defensive core will be enough for BYU to end the six-game losing streak to Utah. The Utes will make it competitive, as they always do, but a new offensive scheme and young quarterback will be too much for Utah to overcome under the lights at LaVell Edwards Stadium. 27-17 BYU.

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