“Nine in a row! Nine in a row!”
That was the chant coming from the MUSS section of Utah fans in the final seconds of a dominating 30-12 win at LaVell Edwards Stadium that concluded in the early hours of Friday morning.
At halftime, BYU trailed 9-6 and the game was shaping up to be a tight, low-scoring defensive contest which has become typical between these two longtime rivals in recent years.
The BYU faithful had reasons to be hopeful as the Cougars had outgained the Utes in total yards by a 196-125 margin in the first half with just 33 yards of passing offense for the Utes. However, there was still that one huge mistake as Ute linebacker Francis Bernard snared an errant pass by Cougar signal caller Zach Wilson and returned it to the house 58 yards to put Utah out in front 9-3. Later in the second quarter, BYU’s Jake Oldroyd would connect on his second field goal and Utah went into the locker room with a tenuous 3-point lead.
But the second half was a nightmare for Cougar fans.
Utah took the opening kickoff and drove the field for a score as running back Zach Moss started to truly assert himself.
Moss ended up racking up 189 yards on 29 carries for a 6.2 yards per rushing attempt average. The punishing ground game chewed up clock and BYU only got the ball four times in the second half and two of those possessions were total disasters.
On Utah’s second possession of the half, the Utes again marched down the field but missed a short field goal. But BYU immediately coughed up the ball on a fumble and Utah quickly capitalized and just like that a 16-6 Ute lead was 23-6.
The Cougar pain wasn’t over either, as instead of BYU making a drive to get back into the game, Wilson threw his second pick six as Julian Blackmon’s interception return for a touchdown made the game 30-6. It was Blackmon’s second straight game between the schools where he scored on a turnover.
There were two distinct mass exodus of BYU fans, the first after Blackmon’s heroics and then when the game was halted by a 54-minute lightning delay at the 9:01 mark of the final stanza.
Just prior to the delay, Wilson did engineer a 75-yard Cougar scoring drive which culminated in a 10-yard scamper to paydirt by Ty’Son Williams. The graduate transfer from South Carolina had scored his first career touchdown in a BYU uniform and was a bright spot for the Cougar offense as he rushed seven times for 48 yards at a 6.4 yards per run clip.
If BYU had any realistic hopes of a comeback, they were pretty much dashed with the unsuccessful two-point conversion that left the Cougars three scores (18 points) behind.
However, the Cougars would never touch the ball again. After the kickoff, Utah ran one more play before the lightning delay, and then when play resumed the Utes marched down the field methodically killing the remaining 9:01 left on the clock. In the last two minutes with BYU out of timeouts but the Utes inside the Cougar 5-yard line, Utah showed their conquered foes some mercy, and with class, Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley took a knee three straight times to end things.
Turnovers, and turnovers for touchdowns, were again a big part of the story in this Ute victory. In the 9-game winning streak for Utah in this series, the Utes have scored nine defensive touchdowns including six interception returns. Winning the turnover battle is a big part of the Utah program and something the Utah defensive coaches preach weekly.
Both Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and Blackmon in post-game remarks referred to the team goal each week of getting at least “four turnovers and one touchdown” via the defense. On the former, Utah actually fell short with three but an extra touchdown coming directly from the hands of the defense more than made up for it.
“We definitely have playmakers on that side of the ball,” stated Whittingham.
The Ute head coach did praise BYU, particularly the Cougar effort defensively.
“They’re (BYU) amongst the better defenses,” said Whittingham. “Their schemes play to their strengths generally and they keep things in front of them. I won’t say they are a ‘bend but not break’ defense because I hate that term, but they do a good job of being where they’re supposed to be. They’re well coached.”
The game, and win, had special meaning for former Timpview quarterback Britain Covey, who now is a wide receiver and return specialist for the Utes. Covey’s family has long established roots with the city of Provo and the BYU program.
“It was fun, it will be the only time I will play in this stadium, but I’ve dreamed of it my whole life. I was just looking up at my tickets, my seats that I had season tickets the whole time (growing up). It was just surreal and I feel grateful. It’s just an emotional win not because of much of where I played but because of everything that has happened with me. It was just very hard and very emotional and I’m just grateful right now,” related Covey.
Covey had just one reception for four yards but did return a punt for 40 yards to give the Utes some needed momentum in the early going.
Utah (1-0), with 14 returning starters including Covey, have high expectations. Most experts see the Utes winning the Pac-12 south, competing for the Pac-12 championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl. Football analyst Lee Corso, of ESPN, even predicted the Utes will compete for the national championship. Utah’s next step in having this dream season will come in their home opener Saturday against Northern Illinois.
Meanwhile, BYU (0-1) will hope to regroup as it heads out to Knoxville to play Tennessee, also on Saturday. The Volunteer program, which has been traditionally a storied SEC program but has struggled in recent years, will be playing a bevy of true freshmen giving the Cougars a realistic opportunity to kick start their season after another tough loss to their rivals 40 miles to the north.