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Does BYU’s upset of No. 21 Utah show the talent gap really isn’t a chasm?

BYU won the trenches and had far more playmakers in a 26-17 win over Utah

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall gets pushed by Utah Utes cornerback Clark Phillips III.
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall gets pushed by Utah Utes cornerback Clark Phillips III during the second half of an NCAA college football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. BYU won 26-17.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

PROVO — Ten did not come.

Not during Big 12 Week in Provo.

BYU rode the legs and arm of sophomore quarterback Jaren Hall and a pesky defense en route to a 26-17 win over No. 21 Utah Saturday night in front of a packed LaVell Edwards Stadium and national TV audience.

Utah’s heralded defense had no answer for Hall’s mobility, which included a 60-yard TD run that got called back when he stepped out of bounds at midfield. His run over the left side on a fourth-and-12 in the second quarter and the fact head coach Kalani Sitake went for it ignited BYU’s team. When Hall stepped out of bounds after an 18-yard gain, it set up BYU’s first touchdown and 10-0 second-quarter lead after a 92-yard drive.

That was the foundation of BYU’s victory that ended a 12-year, nine-game losing streak to the Utes.

On one end of the field, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham passed up a field goal for a failed fourth-down run in the first half. On the other side, Sitake gambled and won on a fourth-and-long.

That was the game in a capsule.

BYU’s win was no fluke, nothing of the luck or crazy bounce side. The Cougars led from start to finish and forced two Utah turnovers, and Hall became the first quarterback since Max Hall to walk off the field a winner over Utah, his teammates embracing him in an emotional display of heroic love.

BYU won the battle of the trenches, something Utah had allegedly enjoyed for nine straight wins.

The win snapped Utah’s streak in a stretch of time in which the state’s media experts hyped and endlessly praised Utah’s superior depth, Pac-12 athletes, blazing speed, size and strength.

Each year the game came up, this anthem was repeated over and over again, that Utah was just more talented.

And they had a right to say so.

The results proved it.

So did recruiting science — albeit an “opinion-based” exercise by recruiting services.

For example, 247Sports had Utah’s average recruiting ranking the past five years as an average of 31. During that time, BYU’s recruiting rank averaged 66; the last five years were ranked 72, 76, 81, 78 and 66 in 2017.

None of that mattered Saturday night.

Hall ran eight times for 92 yards, including a conversion on a fourth-and-12 near midfield in the first half, and completed 18 of 30 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns to stun the Pac-12’s most staunch defense.

Walk-on — that’s right, former linebacker walk-on — Tyler Allgeier carried 27 times for 102 yards to give offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick a dangerous, balanced attack. It was formidable and effective against the Utes.

Meanwhile, BYU surprised Utah’s offense with a multiple-pressure four-man front filled with blitzing linebackers to pressure Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer, who threw an interception to Chaz Ah You in the first quarter. Isiah Herron then picked up a fumble in the first half to really stall Utah’s start to the game.

How does a BYU team with such inferior talent to Utah pull off a win?

Winning the line of scrimmage. BYU also displayed a marked improvement in corners and safeties, holding Utah’s pass game to one TD from Brewer to Brant Kuithe, the best at that position in the Pac-12.

By playing better, cleaner football. Take away three 15-yard personal foul or unsportsmanlike penalties and Sitake’s squad played a clean game — no turnovers. No quarter given. Just football.

Just weeks after he received a contract extension by BYU, Sitake led the Cougars to a storybook-like victory. He did it by slowly but steadily building his roster, strengthening his players, recruiting bigger and faster talent. Nobody seemed to notice, but it was on the comeuppance witnessed last year with five NFL draft picks including, Zach Wilson at No. 2.

BYU had an advantage in playing 12 games last year to Utah’s five. It’s called player development. Sitake and his staff have toiled and worked their butts off to achieve results.

And it showed in this game.

This was BYU’s largest margin of victory over Utah since 1996 when that LaVell Edwards’ Cotton Bowl team led by Steve Sarkisian won, 37-17.

Hall is the first quarterback to burn Utah for three TD passes since John Beck’s four in 2006.

Has BYU made up some ground? One would think so.

Sitake benefited from the most recent NCAA move with the transfer portal, adding a pair of energetic and talented Nacua brothers from Utah and Washington. Samson Nacua caught one of Hall’s TD passes. Neil Pau’u and Gunner Romney had the other two.

Samson caught two passes for 10 and Puka had four for 37. Their added talent to BYU’s already-deep receiving corps was evident. When Utah accounted for tight end Isaac Rex, BYU receivers delivered huge plays.

The 247 recruiting rankings this past year did not include the Nacua arrivals.

Sitake’s team dominated Utah in almost every category — total offense 368 to 340, rushing 219 to 193 with Utah getting nearly half of its ground game in the fourth quarter. BYU had a whopping advantage converting 11 of 19 third-down conversions to Utah’s two of 9, and five for five scoring in the red zone. BYU had an 11-minute advantage in time of possession and ran 76 plays to Utah’s 51.

It would have taken a major breakdown for BYU to have lost to No. 21-ranked Utah on Saturday.

That slippery trip never came.


Well, you could say one.

A very big one began on Saturday night.