clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

BYU needed flawless play to end No. 14 Utah’s stranglehold on the rivalry, but didn’t come close

Cougars committed three costly turnovers and were also manhandled in the trenches in the second half

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) throws an interception under pressure from Utah Utes defensive end Bradlee Anae (6) during the first half of an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) throws an interception under pressure from Utah Utes defensive end Bradlee Anae (6) during the first half of an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

PROVO — Well, at least the BYU Cougars beat the rain and lightning when it came to uglying up the annual rivalry football game against Utah on Thursday night, and Friday morning, at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

In one of their worst performances during Utah’s decade of dominance in the series, the Cougars repeatedly shot themselves in the foot in the first half when a competitive game, perhaps even an upset, was there for the taking, then utterly collapsed in the second half before a lightning delay emptied the stadium — save 10,000 or so hardy souls.

“The problem is that Utah is a really good team, and we didn’t help ourselves with some of the mistakes that we made,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “You have to give them credit for the stuff they were able to impose on us.”

And you have to point the finger squarely at the Cougars for not taking care of the football. Their three giveaways led directly to 20 Utah points. Turnovers have been a common theme in BYU’s nine-straight losses to the Utes, and were again before the rains came in Provo.

“Dumb mistakes,” said BYU tight end Matt Bushman. “If we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot ... ”

He didn’t finish the sentence, but here’s some help: BYU probably still loses, but not as convincingly.

After the 54-minute delay — play resumed at 12:05 a.m. Friday morning, Utah took a 30-12 win to extend its winning streak over BYU and tie the record for most consecutive wins in the series. This was Utah’s largest margin of victory in the rivalry since that 54-10 pounding in 2011.

“Weird game,” said Bushman, BYU’s leading receiver with six catches for 62 yards, all in the first half. “It just sucks.”

So, it was a case of more lamenting and gnashing of teeth for BYU, which doesn’t appear capable of knocking off the No. 14 Utes any time in the near future. Sitake still won’t acknowledge that there is a talent gap, for obvious reasons, but it certainly appeared that way in the second half.

The Cougars schemed, plotted and prepared for the Utes for nearly eight months after last November’s 35-27 loss at Rice-Eccles Stadium, then were steamrolled in a dismal third quarter.

“It is disappointing,” Sitake said. “I don’t think things went as well as we wanted. … But we knew that Utah was going to be a great opponent, and they were.”

Utah’s superior size and depth proved to be too much, after a promising start for the Cougars and sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson, who maybe tried to do too much and ended up throwing a pair of pick-sixes and was part of a botched handoff that led to another easy Utah touchdown.

“I think there were quite a few guys trying to do that, make the plays themselves,” Sitake said of Wilson, who was 21 of 33 for 208 yards after playing brilliantly the final two games last year. “It wasn’t just Zach. There were others doing that in this game as well.”

Leading 9-6 at halftime despite being mostly outplayed in the first half — except for former BYU linebacker Francis Bernard’s 58-yard interception return for a touchdown — the Utes put the hammer down in the second half and BYU could do nothing but contribute to the onslaught.

The Utes flexed their muscles and the Cougars wilted, beginning the first series of the second half when Utah marched 75 yards in 11 plays — 10 of them rushing plays — to send a quick message that BYU’s dreams of an upset were ill-founded.

Never was Utah’s physical superiority more evident than the nine minutes after the weather delay when the Utes took over at their 32 and ran the clock out, mercifully kneeling inside the 10 when the final few minutes ticked away.

“They milked nine minutes, which is pretty unbelievable,” Bushman said.

The Cougars ran five plays in the third quarter — for 14 yards. BYU’s defense had some pluck early, then wilted. BYU committed its second costly turnover — Wilson’s handoff attempt to Ty’Son Williams ended up in the hands of Utah’s Mika Tafua was — and it took Utah just three plays to put the game away.

Sturdy in the first half, BYU’s defense resembled wet paper in the second in half.

“The lack of scoring touchdowns early hurt us,” Sitake said. “But you have to give credit to Utah. Their defense is sound. They made some big plays. … Kyle (Whittingham) said this is one of the most special defenses they’ve had, and I saw it and I believe it. They are going to make some noise.”

BYU isn’t, unless its defense gets stouter against the run and its offense avoids turnovers.

Star linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi said Utah running back Zack Moss had a lot to do with it. Moss ran for 181 yards and a touchdown after a slow start — only 68 in the first half.

“Zack Moss is a phenomenal running back,” Kaufusi said. “He’s probably the best running back we will face all year.”

So the Cougars (0-1) turn their attention to Tennessee, which will host Georgia State on Saturday. Sitake said it will take a lot of hard work to fix their problems, echoing what he said an awful lot in 2017 when the season fell apart.

“We will have to take it out on Tennessee next week,” he said.