Having recently secured the 25th position in this week's AP poll, the BYU Cougars take their act on the road as they battle in-state rival Utah in Salt Lake City as part of the sixth annual Deseret Duel Rivalry.
The Cougars have had a relatively easy time of it so far in 2012, beating up on both Washington State (30-6) and Weber State (45-13), which means the team has now run its win streak to six in a row dating back to last season. While BYU is tied for the third-longest win streak in the nation at the moment, it is still a far cry from the school's all-time mark of 25 consecutive victories from nearly 30 years ago, which included the 1984 National Championship campaign.
As for the Utes, they are currently 1-1 on the season, but that's been overshadowed this week by the announcement that quarterback Jordan Wynn has decided to retire after injuring his shoulder in the 27-20 overtime loss to Utah State in Logan last Friday night.
"Jordan Wynn is injured to the point that we had a conversation with him, and he's going to hang up the football," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said during his weekly press conference. "He's going to move on with life after football. He fought the good fight and came back, but this is the fourth time he has injured his shoulder and he is going to move on. We really appreciate what Jordan has brought to our program and the toughness and resiliency he has shown. If he was my son, I'd probably encourage him to do the same thing."
While Wynn will not be involved in this weekend's battle, it is still a hotly- contested series that has Utah ahead by a count of 55-34-4, although the teams have split the last six meetings. The Utes dominated BYU in last year's clash in Provo, putting up a massive 54-10 victory.
In his final college game, Wynn saw his team fall behind by 13 points in the first quarter before backup quarterback Jon Hays led a late touchdown drive to get the Utes into overtime before bowing to Utah State for the first time since 1997. Wynn finished 6-of-11 for 47 yards and was sacked three times while Hays hit on 12-of-26 for 154 yards and the one TD.
Utah running back John White, responsible for 174 yards and three touchdowns on the ground against BYU last season, gained a game-high 96 yards on 27 attempts versus USU in the recent setback, while Kenneth Scott turned three receptions into 82 yards and a pair of scores as well.
Having to change quarterbacks in the middle of the game certainly didn't help the Utes, and neither did the fact that Utah State scored a TD on a blocked punt to begin the game midway through the first frame.
"Obviously, we didn't get it done," Whittingham said after the game. "We didn't throw the ball well. We didn't run the ball well. Couldn't convert third downs offensively. We were two of 17 on third downs. Defensively, we hung in there for a while."
Now the main objective for the coaching staff is to figure out just who will fill the spot vacated by Wynn. Obviously it will be either Hays or Travis Wilson, and it sounds as though Hays has the inside track, but that doesn't mean Wilson won't be heard from at all. Hays has the experience after appearing in games last season, throwing for three TDs in the postseason win over Georgia Tech so it makes sense that he will get the majority of the snaps in practice this week.
Over on the other side, the Cougars known fully well that Riley Nelson is their man at quarterback, after he completed 18-of-29 passes for 244 yards and a score against Weber State last week. After the outcome had already been determined, head coach Bronco Mendenhall sent in his backups and that allowed a total of 12 different players to catch a pass, spreading the wealth and getting those guys some quality playing time.
BYU also distributed the ball to a host of runners as well, a total of 10 players being credited with rushing attempts as they generated another 225 yards and four scores on the ground. Doing the most damage was Taysom Hill who turned his six carries into 27 yards and two touchdowns.
"We had a chance to see a lot of players play, including three different quarterbacks, a lot of running backs and a bunch of different players on defense," Mendenhall noted after the game. "Riley���s back was a little tight and I thought we would be moving the ball pretty comfortably. It���s a long season and with his back spasms, I thought it made sense to pull him."
Unlike Wynn, Nelson is ready and willing to confront one of BYU's biggest adversaries this weekend. Nelson, who set a personal best with 244 yards passing for a single half, has now thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of the last 10 games. But more than just a passer, the signal-caller is also third among quarterbacks at BYU in terms of rushing, having gained 699 yards on the ground.
Providing a strong outlet for Nelson and the passing attack for the Cougars is wideout Cody Hoffman who caught seven passes for 115 yards and a score versus Weber State and has reeled in at least one pass in 21 straight games which explains why he is on the 2012 Biletnikoff Award Watch List.