SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) - Despite the fact that Utah looked pretty good against North Dakota, while BYU got crushed by LSU, when these rivals hook up, it's usually a great game. In fact, 9 of the last 11 rivalry showdowns have been decided by 7 points or less.
"This game is its own entity," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It almost doesn't matter what's happened prior to this game. If you look back through the years, it's always a battle and it's always a hard fought close game right down to the wire."
"It just seems that regardless of how the teams are doing during the season, the game have been pretty close the last decade or so," said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. "People say you treat it as any other game, but it's not."
Utah has dominated of late, winning six in a row. BYU hasn't won since an overtime victory in Provo back in 2009. So as you might guess, the streak conjures up different kinds of feelings.
"It's definitely important," said Utah defensive lineman Filipo Mokofisi. "I don't want to say that I was on the team that lost to them. Obviously I want to go undefeated against them, so it's an important streak."
"Yeah, I'm not talking about any streaks," Sitake said. "I'm trying to focus on this one game. We're trying to break the streak of losing from last game to this one."
"We're not going to sit back and think about the past and what's happened," added BYU safety Matt Hadley. "Right now, we're just going to focus on what we can control, and that is bringing all the emotion that we have."
But ever since the Utes joined the Pac-12 and BYU went independent back in 2011, there's no question the rivalry has changed.
"Definitely," said Mokofisi, a former Woods Cross High star. "You don't see as many fans liking the rivalry or caring about it as much. But to me, I think it's in tact. I love this rivalry, and I'm hoping it can get the passion back that it used to have."
"It's still very intense," Whittingham said. "There's two things that happened that really changed the feel of it. We're no longer in the same conference, and then the timing of it. Playing early in the season rather than the build up all season long."
But for those players who didn't grow up in the rivalry, they've learned what it's all about.
"That's the game," said Utah wide receiver Darren Carrington. "That's the game of the year. This one means a lot to a lot of people, especially how divided the state is."
"There's going to be a lot of emotion in this game," said BYU linebacker Fred Warner. "The fact that it's going to be a home is huge for us. So, we've just got to make sure we're firing on all cylinders."
Another aspect of the game that has changed is the relationship between head coaches. Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall weren't exactly best friends, while Whittingham and Sitake are very close.
"I consider Kalani a close friend," Whittingham said. "I've said that many times. I spend time with him in the off-season. It certainly has put a different feel on the game for me."
"I think there's a lot of respect from both sides, Utah and BYU," Sitake said. "So, it's fun and that's what college football is all about."
Utah and BYU will kick off at approximately 8:15 p.m. Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
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