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No. 21 Utah gets outplayed at the line of scrimmage in loss to BYU

Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Payton Wilgar (49) knocks down a pass by Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) as BYU and Utah play.
Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Payton Wilgar (49) knocks down a pass by Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) as BYU and Utah play an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. BYU won 26-17, ending a nine-game losing streak to the Utes.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

During Utah’s nine-game winning streak in its rivalry against BYU, which dated all the way back to 2010, the Utes consistently executed their game plan against the Cougars.

It was the same story over and and over over again. In those wins, Utah controlled the lines of scrimmage, forced turnovers and stopped the run.

But none of those things really happened Saturday in the 2021 edition of the rivalry game at LaVell Edwards Stadium. As a result, the Cougars snapped the streak with a 26-17 victory over the Utes, and when it ended, a flood of blue-clad BYU fans rushed the field, ending 11 long years of frustration.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was surprised by the way the loss happened — the Utes didn’t create any takeaways and they generated zero sacks.

“They beat us at the line of scrimmage, which I would have bet my house going in that we would not lose the line of scrimmage. My house isn’t worth that much so it’s not that big of a deal,” he said, “but I never would have seen that coming where we didn’t control the line of scrimmage.

“That’s our M.O. That’s what we do best. We surrendered 250 yards rushing, Couldn’t get a sack. We had zero sacks, zero takeaways on defense, which is not a good recipe for success.”

BYU kind of beat Utah at its own game.

Cougar quarterback Jaren Hall completed 18 of 30 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns and he rushed eight times for 92 yards. Running back Tyler Allgeier gained 97 yards on 27 carries.

As a team, BYU rushed for 219 yards.

“On our defensive line, we were getting pushed. It was evident by the running backs,” Whittingham said. “After contact, they were getting four or five extra yards because of the surge of the offensive line. Their runners ran hard and did a really nice job. We couldn’t hold up. We didn’t hold up. That’s my fault. I’ve got to find a way to get them better.”

BYU converted 11 of 19 third downs and had a big advantage in time of possession — 35:26 to 24:34.

“We’ve got to get stops. We didn’t,” said Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd. “Too many third-down conversions. That’s as simple as it gets. We gave them too many third-down conversions.”

“They were just surging off the ball and we weren’t. We weren’t getting any knock-back. That’s something we stress and pride ourselves on,” Whittingham said. “That’s the starting point for playing on the defensive line here, to get knock-back on the defensive line. We couldn’t do it.”

Utah quarterback Charlie Brewer completed 15 of 26 passes for 147 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Running back Micah Bernard rushed 12 times for 146 yards and a touchdown.

But the Ute defense couldn’t get the Cougars off the field when it mattered most.

Midway through in the fourth quarter, after Utah had cut the deficit to 23-17, BYU put together a 12-play, 71-yard drive that took 6:14, culminating with a field goal by Jake Oldroyd to put BYU ahead 26-17 with 3:21 remaining.

On Utah’s ensuing and final possession, on fourth-and-2 from the BYU 48-yard line, Brewer overthrew Britain Covey near the sideline and turned the ball over on downs.

The Utes simply couldn’t sustain enough drives.

In the second quarter, after the Utes defense forced a three-and-out, Britain Covey returned a punt 35 yards to midfield. Brewer picked up 19 yards on a run and a late hit was tacked on to give Utah first down at the BYU 16-yard line, but the Utes were eventually stuffed on fourth-and-two at the Cougar 7.

Utah could have tied the game with a field goal but opted instead to go for it. That gamble did not pay off.

Whittingham said according to the analytics, it was a good idea to go for it in that case.

“I thought that was the play right there,” Whittingham said. “Just because it was a bad outcome doesn’t mean it was a bad decision. I’d do it again.”

And BYU managed to capitalize on the momentum shift, driving 93 yards, highlighted by a 33-yard catch by Keanu Hill to the Utah 2-yard line.

One play later, former Ute wide receiver Samson Nacua hauled in a 2-yard TD pass with four seconds remaining to put the Cougars up 16-7 at the half. Jake Oldroyd missed the 35-yard PAT after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on Nacua and his brother, Puka.

“They proceeded to go 93 yards after that, which shocked me,” Whittingham said. “People don’t usually drive on our defense those length of drives. So we couldn’t find our way out of that drive.”

The Utes advanced the ball to the BYU 28 late in the third quarter on a drive highlighted by a 37-yard reception by Dalton Kincaid on third-and-6, but Utah’s offense stalled and the possession ended when Jadon Redding missed a 49-yard field goal attempt.

BYU took over and marched right down field. Hall’s 23-run gave the Cougars the ball at the Utah 4-yard line. One play later, Hall connected with Gunner Romney for the touchdown and BYU was staked to a 23-7 advantage with 38 seconds left in the third quarter.

Just when it looked like Utah might be on the ropes, Bernard burst through a hole and picked up 50 yards, giving the Utes the ball at the BYU 25-yard line just before the end of the quarter.

As the quarter began, so did the rain. It came down hard.

The Utes sliced into BYU’s lead on a 47-yard field goal by Redding. The drive was slowed down when Brewer was sacked for a seven-yard loss at the BYU 29.

BYU punted, setting up Devaughn Vele’s 27-yard return. That gave the Utes the ball at the 45-yard line with 11:46 remaining.

Once again, Bernard came up big, gaining 19 yards on the drive’s first play and ending it with a 23-yard touchdown run, plowing into the end zone to make it 23-17 for BYU with 9:31 left.

But the Utes failed to complete their script. The Cougars turned the tables and snapped their nine-game losing streak to Utah.

The Utes visit Carson, California, next Saturday to face San Diego State.