New game, new players, same old tune in the BYU-Utah football game:
The Cougars generously turn the ball over multiple times, the Utes capitalize.
Like a broken record that Cougar fans simply despise, the annual rivalry game followed the same script as so many of the others as BYU surrendered 20 points off of three turnovers — including two pick sixes — to gift-wrap the 30-12 Ute victory.
“The difference in this game was a lot of the mistakes that happened and poor execution,” Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake said. “We’ve got to get those fixed. Utah is a really good team. They have been given a lot of accolades and rankings, and they deserve it. It was competitive and there were some really good things early, but we had way too many mistakes in terms of turnovers.”
The BYU self-destruction began in the second quarter when the game was tied at 3-3.
Cougar sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson had his team in Ute territory with a chance to take the lead when he scrambled out of the pocket and spotted an open receiver.
But just as he went to throw, he was hit from behind and the ball sailed right to former Cougar Francis Bernard, now a Ute linebacker. Bernard raced 58 yards to the end zone to put Utah in front.
“We shot ourselves in the foot on every drive in the first half,” BYU junior tight end Matt Bushman said. “If we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot and execute a lot better — we need to execute our plays and we didn’t really do that.”
BYU had a chance to take the lead on the next drive as Wilson directed the team to the Ute 15-yard line.
But a potential Cougar touchdown pass to receiver Dax Milne slipped off his hands in the end zone, then on a third-and-3 a bad snap lost 15 yards, forcing BYU to settle for a second field goal by sophomore Jake Oldroyd.
“All of us know we have to finish drives,” Cougar senior wide receiver Micah Simon said. “Early on in the game, we knew we could move the ball. But when we got in the red zone, we had some crucial penalties that killed us, as well as some sloppy ball play. We know we have to execute way better, finish those drives and capitalize on those opportunities.”
Utah proceeded to put together its only long touchdown drive of the game on the first possession of the third quarter, capping the drive with a 1-yard scoring run by Ute wide receiver Jaylen Dixon.
But it was BYU’s first two drives in the fourth quarter that killed the Cougar hopes of winning.
After a missed Ute field goal, the home team had a handoff slip through the hands of BYU senior running back Ty’Son Williams and Utah recovered at the Cougars 22-yard line.
The Utes needed just three plays to take advantage of that turnover as senior running back Zach Moss rumbled in from 4 yards out.
BYU tried to answer but on the second play of the drive, Wilson tried to force the ball into triple coverage and the ball was tipped to Ute senior defensive back Julian Blackmon, who returned it 39 yards for the score.
“It’s hard to spot them two touchdowns on pick sixes,” Sitake said. “That’s difficult for a defense. We felt like we were in some good positions but I would like our guys to respond better.”
The 24-point deficit would prove to be far too much for the Cougars to overcome, although they didn’t give up.
Wilson got the BYU offense all the way down the field and into the end zone for the first time in the game, with Williams taking the ball 10 yards for the score.
The two-point conversion that would have cut Utah’s lead to 16 points or two scores failed when the snap sailed high over Wilson’s head.
Both teams then had to leave the field with 9:01 left on the clock as a thunderstorm brought a lightning delay of 54 minutes.
Utah turned to the run game and Moss to close out the game and BYU couldn’t get off the field. Moss finished with 181 yards rushing with one touchdown.
“I thought we did some good things early in the run game in controlling Moss a little bit, making it hard for him,” Sitake said. “He’s a special back.”
The Ute run game allowed the visitors to hold the ball for more than 23 minutes in the second half, limiting the opportunities for the Cougar offense to rally.
Now BYU has to figure out how to get past the loss and get ready for next week’s game at Tennessee.
“There are a lot of things we need to fix and get working on,” Sitake said. “We’ve got to move on. I’m excited to learn for this and prep for Tennessee.”