The BYU defense made the difference today. Although the defense let Utah drive the ball effectively for the first two drives, the defense bent but it did not break and held Utah to two field goals. Then the Cougar D cranked up the pressure and shut Utah down cold the rest of the half, including an interception by Andrew Rich that he returned 52 yards to set up a field goal just before the half. The defense continued its dominance through most of the third quarter as BYU built up a 20-6 lead. Then fatigue set in and Utah started to score again in the fourth quarter. Even then, the defense came up big, I mean real big, with five minutes to play in the game. BYU had just punted the ball back to Utah with the score now 20-17. After giving Utah five yards on a penalty, BYU did not allow a single yard as Utah threw three incomplete passes. Sadly, BYU could not get a first down on its ensuing drive, and Utah took advantage of a second chance to score a field goal and force overtime.
Special teams was very key in the victory as well. O’Neill Chambers had a 43 yard punt return to set up BYU’s first touchdown and first lead. Utah also committed two catch interference penalties on punts. One offset a BYU penalty that could have given Utah a new set of downs. The other gave BYU favorable field position to start its first drive of the second half; a drive that ended in a touchdown.
As for what I was watching for, here’s what I saw:
- Will BYU use a balanced passing and rushing attack on offense? 32 passes and 36 runs. Some may say BYU started running the ball too much in the fourth quarter and that prevented the Cougars from putting the game away, but I disagree. The play calling was not the problem, it was another aspect of the coaching (to be continued…).
- Will Max Hall have a good game? Hall clearly did not have a good game, but he did not have a bad game either. He managed the game in a way that allowed BYU to win. Some numbers were ugly: 37.5 completion percentage, 4.2 yards per attempt, and a 93.3 pass efficiency rating. Some numbers were pretty: 2 touchdown passes, zero interceptions, 3 runs for first downs. The touchdown passes were the first of his career against Utah. Two of his runs for first downs came on BYU’s first scoring drive. The other helped BYU get the upper hand in the field position battle.
- Will BYU keep their emotions in check? Early on BYU was hurt by its emotions. Manase Tonga earned a 15-yard penalty when BYU had the ball on the Utah five yard line and the Utah defense on its heels. BYU had to settle for a field goal. After that, BYU channeled their emotions for good between the whistles and came out victorious.
- Will Harvey Unga eclipse the 1,000 yard mark for the third year in a row? Yes, Unga logged 116 yard for the second year in a row against Utah. He has been the equalizer the last three years. While Utah has had Max Hall’s number, Unga has had Utah’s number. He scored the winning touchdown two years ago, and this year his contributions, which included another touchdown, were a big part of BYU’s win today. Unga is undoubtedly the most underrated back in the nation. Three 1,000 yard rushing seasons is a rare feat, especially with the way he has had to battle through injuries, yet he gets very little national publicity.
- Will Utah make a quarterback change if they are behind in the fourth quarter? Utah was down 14 points to start the fourth quarter, and after a 7 for 7 start, Jordan Wynn had played very ineffective. Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham did not pull his quarterback. Instead, he returned to the run game that Utah had abandoned. This helped Wynn play effective enough to score 14 fourth quarter points and force overtime.
- To continue number one above. I am scratching my head asking, “Why didn’t BYU use a timeout before one of those third downs in the fourth quarter to have more time to draw up a play and increase chances to convert the first down and put the game away?” We see teams do this every week. As it is, BYU did not use a single timeout in the second half or overtime.
- The BYU-Utah rivalry will continue to be these nail biters until the BYU coaching staff does one of two things. BYU coaches need to either commit to the run and dominate and control the game that way, a la 1996, or they need to commit to understand Utah’s defensive pass schemes and better prepare whoever the quarterback is so that he can play effectively and attack the weaknesses in the Utah pass coverages.
- Dennis Pitta should win the Mackey Award. When the second best tight end makes a game winning catch like Andrew George did, how could the best tight end on the team not be the best tight end in the country?
- Dennis Pitta caught two passes, which was exactly what he needed to move ahead of Austin Collie as the all-time receptions leader in BYU history.
- If I had a vote, it would be for Max Hall as the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year, but his poor overall numbers in this game may cost him this piece of post-season hardware.