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Defense makes the difference as Utes hold on to defeat BYU, 19-13

PROVO — Prior to Saturday’s 19-13 win at BYU, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the 23rd-ranked Utes needed to make more havoc plays. They managed just a single sack and one takeaway in their 37-16 season-opening win over North Dakota.

Things were much improved in Utah’s first visit to LaVell Edwards Stadium in nearly four years. The Utes picked off three passes and sacked Tanner Mangum three times in extending their win streak in the Rivalry Game to seven games.

"The impact plays, the havoc plays, those are what we're all about on defense," Whittingham said.

Boobie Hobbs started the takeaways when he intercepted Mangum with 8:06 to play in the first quarter. The senior nickel back returned the ball 29 yards to the BYU 9. Less than two minutes later, Matt Gay made a 21-yard field goal to give Utah a 3-0 advantage. The senior later added kicks of 25 and 31 yards as the Utes built a 9-0 halftime lead.

Although the defense had registered some quarterback hurries early on, Mangum wasn’t sacked until cornerback Casey Hughes got to him late in the second quarter.

Defensive tackles Lowell Lotulelei and Filipo Mokofisi teamed up for a takeaway early in the third quarter. Lotulelei hit Mangum and Mokofisi intercepted an pass attempt on the play. Utah took possession in the red zone, eventually scoring a touchdown on a 5-yard run by quarterback Tyler Huntley.

Leading 16-0 after Gay added the PAT, Utah picked off another pass less than two minutes later. Freshman Jaylon Johnson recorded the interception. The Utes, though, turned the ball back over to BYU on the next play from scrimmage when Huntley fumbled.

The Cougars wound up scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run by Ula Tolutau. A two-point conversion attempt failed.

Before the quarter was complete, though, Utah added a 38-yard field goal to make it 19-6 entering the final 15 minutes.

Utah’s defense finished with three sacks. Mokofisi and linebacker Cody Barton joined Hughes in getting one.

"It's Sack Lake City, right? Without the d-line there's no turnovers. There's no picks," Hobbs said. "Those guys played a hell of a game by getting pressure. When they get pressure, we get picks. So we like it."

The defensive success allowed the Utes to overcome two lost fumbles and 11 penalties, including a targeting call that led to the ejection of linebacker Sunia Tauteoli in the first half.

It was also enough to help Utah weather a 7-yard scoring strike from Mangum to Trey Dye with 2:38 remaining. The Cougars were also stopped on a final drive by a loss on downs at their own 15-yard line with 57 seconds left.

By game’s end, Utah had six pass breakups and three hurries to go along with the interceptions. Mangum was held to 164 yards passing. The Utes stuffed the Cougars on the ground as well, holding them to 63 yards rushing.

The final score, however, didn't reflect large statistical advantages held by Utah. The Utes topped the Cougars in total offense (436-233) and first downs (18-13).

Besides the penalties, Utah's offense struggled on third down (3 of 14) and scoring touchdowns in the red zone (1 of 7). Snaps from center also proved troublesome at times.

"We just don't seem to be quite in sync offensively, yet," Whittingham said. "I think it's still a work in progress."

Huntley completed 27 of 36 passes for 300 yards. He also rushed for a game-high 89 yards.

Utah returns to action Saturday at home against San Jose State.