BYU made a statement Saturday night.
The Cougars may not be perfect, but they’re the real deal. They showed that in a 26-17 win over No. 21 Utah.
Any doubt still leftover from last season, when BYU played a historic season against a softer schedule than originally planned, might finally be laid to rest.
Add in Friday’s news of BYU becoming a future Big 12 member, and the Cougars had arguably one of the best weekends in program history.
“I think it’s definitely up there, absolutely,” quarterback Jaren Hall said. “... That was great news, but we’re just happy to get the win tonight and now be able to enjoy them both.”
Utah loomed on the Cougars’ schedule as one of the hardest games of 2021. BYU has now opened the 2021 campaign with two wins against Pac-12 teams.
On Sunday, BYU made its way into the AP Top 25, coming in at No. 23. The Cougars had previously gotten votes, but were left off the preseason list and the Week 1 list.
“This is huge, it’s momentum from winning two games in a row,” Hall said. “Winning this huge rivalry, it’s a very important game. Moving into this next week, we just remain humble and just get ready for Arizona State and move in that direction.”
Establishing the run against the Utes
Utah is best known for its defense, particularly stopping its opponents’ run game, but failed to do so against BYU. The Cougars mounted 251 rushing yards, and Tyler Allgeier and Hall were responsible for 189 of those yards.
BYU’s top rusher, Allgeier, trucked through the Utes’ defensive line with relative ease.
Utah tried putting pressure on Hall, but the dual-threat athlete would use his feet to scramble out of the pocket for some key first downs. The Spanish Fork native converted on a fourth-and-long, as well as three third downs by opting to run the ball down the field himself instead. Hall even almost made the run of his life, but what originally looked like a 66-yard scramble was instead called an 18-yard rush as officials said Hall had stepped out of bounds.
“We practiced all week for them,” Allgeier said. “Our scout team gave us a great look at their defense. We came out a little slow, but we ended up picking it up. The defense had our backs and we had theirs. We had to pick it up, ramp it up and do our thing.”
BYU made the best of conversion and red zone chances
The Cougar defense locked down on the Utes, allowing Utah to convert on only two of its nine third-down plays, and didn’t allow any fourth-down conversions. The Utes were also only able to capitalize on one of two red-zone scoring chances.
BYU was in stark contrast.
The Cougars converted 11 of their 19 third downs and their lone fourth-down conversion. They also scored on all five of their red-zone chances — with three touchdowns and two field goals.
“It’s huge to convert on third down,” Hall said. “We practice it every week, but it really comes down to our defense. They gave us the ball and it’s all credit to them that we were able to go to work. The defense played a great game and we had our chances and executed from the third down and I’m proud of my team.”
Protecting the ball, but getting too many penalties
Throughout BYU’s losing streak with Utah, there was one big commonality: turnovers.
The last time the Cougars managed to protect the ball and avoid any turnovers was when BYU got its last win against the Utes — in 2009. BYU not only avoided any turnovers but got the Utes to commit two turnovers (interception and fumble) and to turn over the ball on downs twice.
What almost hurt the Cougars, however, was the amount of penalties committed.
BYU had eight penalties through the night for 65 yards. One came off unsportsmanlike conduct following a touchdown by Samson Nacua, and caused the ensuing PAT to be missed due to the longer kicking distance.
“The one’s that bothered me most … is the ones that we were uncharacteristic of what BYU’s about — the late hits and unsportsmanlike conduct,” coach Kalani Sitake said. “That’s on me. That’s what I have to do better as a head coach to make sure we’re more disciplined in that aspect. I thought we played better in the second half in regards to that stuff, but that stuff can’t happen.”
BYU got the stop when it needed it
Throughout the rivalry, there have been plenty of games that have been decided by one play or one score. In recent years, it was BYU that landed on the short end of the stick.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Utah made it a one-score game with a 22-yard rushing touchdown from top running back Micah Bernard.
The Cougars responded with a 21-yard field goal, but most importantly got a key defensive stop to put an end to the game.
The Utes were only allowed six plays for 27 yards on their final drive of the game before turning over the ball on downs with 2:17 left in the game. BYU would go on to burn the remainder of the clock.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar said. “It was awesome, an amazing feeling. It’s huge to win it on defense with a stop like that. We take a lot of pride in that.”