Utah Utes at Brigham Young Cougars Pick 8/29/19
Utah Utes (0-0) at Brigham Young Cougars (0-0)
When: Thursday, August 29, 10:15 p.m. EST
Where: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, Utah
Point Spread: UTAH -5 (BetNow)
Total: O/U 48.5
Outlook For Week 1
The Holy War remains as big a war as ever, even as Utah has ascended as it’s become a full-fledged member of the Pac-12 and BYU has faced a tougher adjustment in its independence, but it’s a war that’s had the same result year after year: a Utah victory. The last year of the teams playing in the Mountain West Conference in 2010 was the start of Utah’s streak, which has now reached eight consecutive wins over the Cougars, including a bowl game battle in 2015. Making matters more aggravating for the Cougars is the fact that for the most part, all of these games have been close. Other than a 54-10 blowout in 2011, every game in the series has been decided by a single score, with Utah’s 35-27 win last year in Salt Lake City marking the biggest margin of victory of the seven non-blowout games. This one is extra special, as it’s the 100th official meeting between the schools.
How the Public is Betting the Utah/BYU Game
The line opened at Utah -6.5 and got as low as Utah -4.5 before settling at Utah -5.
Transfer quarterback Cameron Rising is ineligible to play this season after leaving Texas for Utah.
Tight end Matt Bushman, BYU’s leading receiver last year, is questionable after offseason shoulder surgery. Wide receiver Aleva Hifo is also questionable with a shoulder issue.
When Utah Has the Ball
Senior quarterback Tyler Huntley has been waiting for this game for more than a year after he missed the last month of the season with an injury against Arizona State. Sophomore Jason Shelley came out of the bullpen to lead the Utes to a win over the Cougars last year with Huntley on the shelf, and while he’s still available if needed, this is Huntley’s time to shine. He’ll be joined in the backfield by running back Zack Moss, who also went down against Arizona State and didn’t play against BYU last season. Moss averaged more than 6 yards per carry last year, making him a real threat against a solid BYU defense that held eight of its opponents to 21 points or less last season.
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When BYU Has the Ball
Zach Wilson needs to be at his best for the Cougars to have a chance. Last year, he was pretty close when BYU fell at Utah, going 20 for 29 for 204 yards and two touchdowns and one interception as a freshman. Wilson is a rarity for BYU — a sophomore quarterback who is actually just two years removed from high school. Usually, the Cougars start much older players at the position because most of BYU’s roster takes two years off to go on a religious mission before returning to school, but Wilson has proven so skilled at the position that his youth hasn’t hurt him in the slightest.
However, he needs some help from his running game. Last year, Lopini Katoa was out with an injury, and Wilson ended up the Cougars’ leading rusher in the Utah game — a significant factor in BYU’s inability to hold a 20-0 lead on the Utes last season. Katoa is back strong this year, and the Cougars will need him to punch some holes in a strong Utah front seven so that Wilson can effectively run the show.
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When the game is in Provo, you can almost always count on a tight one. The schools play at BYU in odd years, and the 2011 blowout is the only one of the past ten meetings at LaVell Edwards Stadium that has been decided by more than seven points. The previous two meetings in Provo were almost identical scores, with Utah winning 20-13 in 2013 and 19-13 in 2017.
That’s another hallmark of meetings in Provo: the teams tend to play outstanding defense there. Over the past ten games in Provo, the teams have combined to hit 50 points just twice, and in seven of those contests, they haven’t topped 45 points.
Thursday is expected to be a scorcher during the day with a high of 90 degrees, but these teams aren’t kicking off until just after sunset (8:15 p.m. Mountain), so the temperature should find its way into the 70s by kickoff as it heads toward the low of 60.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread
Eventually, BYU is going to break through against Utah. The Cougars have played so many close games against their arch-rival that it’s hard to fathom how they haven’t managed to get at least one of them to go their way.
I think Utah is the better squad and should keep the win streak alive, but the line is a nerve-wracking one given these teams’ tendencies to play close games. Both sides can play good defense, and both like what they’ve got under center as long as they’re healthy. This match is going to be a tight game between two solid teams that care more about winning this game than any other contest on their schedule, and it feels like another one-score game. I’d feel much better about this if I had one more point to work with. That said, I’m going to have to side with the Cougars and the points here, with the thought being that Utah hangs on for a three or four-point victory.