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As camps open, Utes, Cougs and Aggies prepare to take care of small details

University of Utah running back Devontae Booker (23) scores a touchdown in overtime against Oregon State University during an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., Thursday, Oct.. 16, 2014. The University of Utah beat Oregon State 29-23.
University of Utah running back Devontae Booker (23) scores a touchdown in overtime against Oregon State University during an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., Thursday, Oct.. 16, 2014. The University of Utah beat Oregon State 29-23.
Troy Wayrynen, Associated Press

Take just one thing from 2014 for the Utes, Cougars and Aggies, and it makes a big difference in how their seasons are digested a year later.

Overtime.

It’s easier said than done, but comeuppance, execution, stamina and focus in overtime games can make a huge difference in what a season record looks like. Look no further than last season with Utah, BYU and Utah State.

The Cougars finished 8-4 a year ago with three overtime periods — two in the final game against Memphis. BYU was 0-2 in those games.

Utah played five overtime periods, four of them in two games. Utah went 2-1 in those extended contests.

Utah State finished with a 10-4 record after overcoming horrible luck with injuries that forced rotating QBs. But the 21-14 overtime loss at Arkansas State in Jonesboro was a glaring mark that screams for a mulligan. An 11-3 finish would have been golden.

Heading into the opening of fall camps, no doubt this will be a discussion point for all three teams. These instate schools went 2-4 in overtime games in 2014. In history, BYU and Utah have had 11 overtime games against FBS opponents and gone 6-5 (.545). Overall, Utah has had 16 OT games and is 9-7 (.563).

BYU, Utah and USU lost overtime games by a combined 27 points in 2014. For the Utes, it was by field goals, 3 and 3. For the Cougars and Aggies, the losses were by touchdowns (14 points by BYU and 7 by USU).

Said Mendenhall, “We learned that depth matters, keeping players healthy matters and how you manage overtime really matters. If we’d done a better job in overtime, we’d have had two more wins.”

Better execution by BYU in overtime losses to Central Florida (31-24) and Memphis (55-48) and 10-3 smells much better than 8-5. The excuse of losing Taysom Hill in game four becomes less of an offseason bullet point.

The Utes found ways to win close games against UCLA, USC and Colorado by a combined total of nine points. But what if those overtime wins over Oregon State (29-23) and Stanford (20-17) had gone the other way? Utah finishes 7-6 and 3-6 in the Pac-12 instead of 5-4.

Bronco Mendenhall and Kyle Whittingham know this game is decided on bounces — after all you do. And it’s the latter that makes all the difference for a football team — doing little things right, preventing mistakes, eliminating miscues, fine-tuning the myriad ways that push a close game into the win column.

I’d say with the Utes, that difference was special teams. In particular, the return game and the field-goal prowess of Andy Phillips and the punting artistry of Tom Hackett.

If I singled out one aspect of BYU losing two overtime games, it would be one single deal: Putting no pressure on the quarterback.

The Aggies? I’d say keep a healthy QB. In the Arkansas State game, however, a blocked USU field goal led to overtime and eventual loss.

Simple as chips and dip, right?

No, of course not.

But in football, that, many times, is the margin between winners and losers. Summer time and fall camp is where these games are won and lost.

Through preparation.

“I think that special teams last year in particular was a huge reason why we were able to win nine ballgames in a field position game that Tom Hackett allowed us to play with his exceptional punting and pinning people inside the 10‑yard line,” Whittingham told reporters this past week.

“Anyway, with Tom Hackett being able to flip the field and pin opponents inside the 10, and Phillips with his uncanny accuracy in field goals, that's been a big part of our transition into the Pac‑12 and being able to get to where we are now.”

So in coming days, we’ll be hearing a lot about the superstars on the field — Chuckie Keeton, Taysom Hill, even Hackett and Phillips — and deservingly so.

But so much of the success of the seasons for these teams will depend on things taken for granted by many. Things like a lineman, back or receiver holding a block for a second longer so a kicker can do his job or a passer can find a receiver, or a pass catcher making the right cut at the right time to get open. Or it may come down to a linebacker or corner wrapping up and using proper technique to tackle a guy on a key play.

The temerity of how all that gets done takes place during sultry August when exhaustive drills are run and sound fundamentals are taught.

It’s the time when seasons are won or lost.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.