Stalled ground game plagues BYU offense

Brigham Young made a name for itself in college football by throwing the ball. To win Saturday's annual battle with in-state rival Utah, however, the Cougars probably will have to run the ball better.

"I think (our) biggest issue right now is we have to find a way to run the ball more effectively," Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall said.

BYU (1-1) averaged 67 yards rushing in its first two games. The lack of a running game has grounded the passing game and left the offense struggling. The Cougars have managed only two offensive touchdowns in eight quarters and rank 108th in the nation in total offense, despite returning 10 starters.

"I think we have good players and good ability," Mendenhall said. "They're still optimistic and working hard. It's a work in progress."

■ EARLY MEETING -- When BYU and Utah (1-1) play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, it will be the earliest in-season meeting in the rivalry's history. The only other September game was in 1958.

Typically, the game was reserved for the end of the season and often determined a conference championship. It's also the first meeting of the two in a nonconference setting. BYU now plays as an independent, and Utah is a member of the new Pacific-12 Conference.

"It is what it is," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of the early matchup. "It's a big in-state event, maybe the biggest sports event in the state every year."

The 6:15 p.m. game will be broadcast by ESPN2 (Cox 31) and KSHP-AM (1400).

■ FASSEL REMEMBERS -- Locomotives coach Jim Fassel knows all about the BYU-Utah rivalry. He was coach of the Utes from 1985 to 1989.

"Those fans (on both sides) work and live together and talk about it all year," Fassel said. "If you lose that game, you feel like you let down a whole bunch of people."

Fassel took over the Utes right after BYU won the 1984 national championship, and competing for in-state recruits was nearly impossible. After losing Fassel's first three games against BYU, the Utes broke through for a 57-28 win at Salt Lake City in 1988.

"It was the biggest win of my career at that (point)," he said. "We hadn't beaten them in 10 years."

The victory served as a wake-up call to BYU, and the rivalry has been even since.

Quarterback Ty Detmer and the Cougars rebounded in 1989 and routed Utah 70-41 at Provo, leaving Fassel 1-4 against BYU. He was fired after the season.

"The biggest mistake I made was I recruited guys who went on (Mormon) missions," Fassel said. "My problem was I didn't have any missionaries coming back to play in place of the ones who were gone. It was too big of a gap to fill."

■ CLOSE GAMES -- BYU and Utah have split their past 24 meetings. All but two since 1997 were decided by seven or fewer points, and four of the past six were determined on the final play. Last year at Salt Lake City, Utah blocked a 42-yard field-goal attempt as time expired to win 17-16 and secure a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl.

Dave McCann is a morning news anchor on KLAS-TV (Channel 8). He hosts "True Blue" at 5 p.m. Monday on BYUtv, is the play-by-play voice for BYUtv and hosts "Cougar Countdown" at noon Wednesday on KSHP-AM (1400). He can be reached at