PROVO — In order to have any chance of upsetting BYU, the Utah football team needed a big game from Brett Ratliff, the mysterious quarterback who had taken about a dozen snaps all season before Saturday.
The Utes also needed a good game from their defense, which they got, but they absolutely needed to score some points to be able to knock off the red-hot Cougars, who had averaged 51 points in their last three victories. Without a good game from Ratliff, the junior college quarterback who joined the team in August, they had little chance of winning.
What Utah got was the game of a lifetime from Ratliff and the result was another win in Provo, the sixth in the last seven meetings for the Utes.
Ratliff's final numbers were nothing short of amazing — 17 of 32 completions for 240 yards and four touchdowns and 112 yards rushing on 19 carries and a touchdown. He was responsible for all five Ute touchdowns.
And how about this stat? Zero turnovers.
Minutes after he had thrown the winning touchdown pass to Travis LaTendresse, Ratliff was surrounded by more media folk than he had ever seen in his life and was almost speechless.
"I'm still just in shock," he said. "I was just excited to play today."
He was asked at least five times by media who kept joining the throng if he was nervous, and his answer every time was "a little bit."
But he said the nervousness didn't last long and said, "I felt great and was able to settle down quickly."
Ratliff was recruited from Butte Junior College by Ute offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who liked his live arm, the fact that he was a winner (20-3 record) and had a lot of raw ability, according to U. coach Kyle Whittingham.
He got off to a late start for August drills because of a glitch in his junior college transcripts arriving but quickly caught up, according to his coaches. He never really had a chance to beat out Brian Johnson, last year's backup, but he won the battle for backup for this season.
Ratliff was known more as a passer than a runner, but he certainly fooled the Cougar defense to the tune of a 100-yard game, including a 4-yard scamper around left end to make it 24-3 in the second quarter.
"Everybody doubted me, but I've always thought I could run the ball," he said. "Today it just opened up, I tucked it down and got some runs to help the team win."
Whittingham expressed confidence in Ratliff all week, and after the victory, praised him to the hilt, saying, "He's a confident kid with a great deal of poise, and he proved that tonight."
When asked afterward if he was at all surprised by Ratliff's performance, Whittingham said he was but then again he wasn't.
"I expected him to play well, but did I expect him to play that well? No. I expected him to have a solid performance.
"Did I think he was going to put up 41 points and not turn the ball over and do the things he did. I didn't see that coming," Whittingham said.
While most people were surprised by Ratliff's performance, including his coach, perhaps the most surprised folks were the BYU players.
"They were surprised the whole game we were winning," Ratliff said. "I think they're still surprised."