Utah’s defense keeps scoring touchdowns vs. BYU

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes linebacker Francis Bernard (13) makes a U sign to BYU Fans after scoring on an interception, as Brigham Young University (BYU) hosts the University of Utah, NCAA football in Provo on Thursday Aug. 29, 2019.

Andy Ludwig’s arrival as Utah’s offensive coordinator in January was a financial gift to defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, who received a 56-percent raise to a comparable salary of $820,000.

Scalley returned the favor Thursday night in Utah's 30-12 victory at BYU. His defensive players returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and a fumble recovery at the BYU 22-yard line led to one of the Utah offense's two TDs.

The NCAA doesn’t distinguish how points are produced, so anything that adds to the “scoring offense” statistical category benefits offensive coordinators. Utah’s 30-point showing will make Ludwig look good, even if Scalley’s group deserves about half of the credit. It’s also true that Utah’s offense probably could have added a last-minute touchdown, but chose to kill the clock after reaching the BYU 3-yard line. And the Ute offense kept the ball for the entire 9:01 that remained after the lightning delay, so the defense never had to go back onto the field in Provo.
All points count the same, regardless of how they’re scored. The Utes keep capitalizing in the rivalry games, producing nine defensive touchdowns in the last eight meetings with BYU. That total includes six interception returns for TDs in five games, with linebacker Francis Bernard and safety Julian Blackmon reaching the end zone in Provo.

Utah’s defensive goal in each game is ambitious: “Four and a score.” The Utes hope to get four takeaways and turn one of them into a touchdown. Utah created three turnovers Thursday, directly accounting for 13 points and setting up another seven points.

Thanks mostly to the running of Zack Moss, Ludwig’s offense accounted for 368 yards — including 243 yards in the second half. The next issue is how Utah’s passing game can become more effective, in terms of exploiting Moss’ production and making it easier for him, beginning next Saturday vs. Northern Illinois.

Facing a BYU defense that dropped into coverage, Huntley completed 13 of 16 passes for 106 yards. “We know we need to be more explosive,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We need to get the ball down the field more in the throw game.”


When • Saturday, 11 a.m.
TV • Pac-12 Networks.

Utah receiver Britain Covey joked about the offense’s “Air Raid” identity, with a plan to “pass all day.” That won’t happen, with Moss running the way he did Thursday in gaining 187 yards on 29 carries. But a complementary passing game would be helpful.

Huntley would have posted significantly bigger passing yardage, if not for one dropped pass. Tight end Brant Kuithe was all alone on a crossing route in the second quarter and may have turned the catch into about a 40-yard gain. Kuithe later made a 26-yard reception and Huntley also was aided by Solomon Enis' great catch on the sideline for 12 yards that sustained the offense's first touchdown drive on third and 8.

Demari Simpkins was Utah's leading receiver with four catches for 35 yards, although none of his receptions went for a first down. Covey, Jaylen Dixon and Samson Nacua, Utah's top three receivers last season, each had one catch.

Former Ute receiver Siaosi Mariner caught eight passes for 118 yards and touchdown Friday in Utah State’s 38-35 loss at Wake Forest. Ex-Utah tight end/defensive end Caleb Repp had five receptions for 59 yards.


Utah's defensive touchdowns vs. BYU in this decade:

2011 • Derrick Shelby fumble recovery in end zone; VJ Fehoko 57-yard fumble return.
2012 • Mo Lee 47-yard fumble return.
2015 • Tevin Carter 28-yard interception return; Dominique Hatfield 46-yard interception return.
2016 • Sunia Tauteoli 41-yard interception return.
2018 • Julian Blackmon 27-yard interception return.
2019 • Francis Bernard 58-yard interception return; Blackmon 39-yard interception return.

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