Why Utes coach Kyle Whittingham loved Britain Covey’s taunting flex vs. Arizona State

The veteran wideout’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was out of character but showed a passion that fueled Utah’s comeback win

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) doesn't often let his emotions show on the football field, but Covey's celebration, which drew a penalty flag on Saturday, has been the talk of the team in the days since.

Between players, fans, and even media members, everyone has had a little fun over the last few days with a certain 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty the University of Utah incurred Saturday night versus Arizona State.

It has been a lighthearted exercise in the days since the Utes’ 35-21 come-from-behind win over the Sun Devils, mostly because Britain Covey was the one who drew the penalty for flexing in the face of ASU cornerback Timarcus Davis.

“I can’t walk by a single one of my teammates without them flexing,” Covey said in jest late Monday afternoon after the Utes finished a walkthrough at the Eccles Field House.

Credit to Covey, he is fully aware of how absurd this whole thing has been.

“I’m a little disappointed I didn’t get randomly drug tested, you know?” he said. “Of all the people who don’t deserve to flex, it’s probably the 170-pound slot receiver, so I went with it.”

With 6:45 to play in the third quarter and Utah trailing, 21-14, Cam Rising connected with Covey along the right side for six yards on third-and-4 from the ASU 11-yard line, seemingly setting up first-and-goal.

At the end of the play, Davis drove Covey to the ground out of bounds. Covey popped right up and flexed both of his arms while standing over Davis. The official closest to Covey did not hesitate to throw a flag and issue the 15-yard penalty, setting up first down from the 20-yard line.

It didn’t ultimately hurt the Utes because, on the next play, Rising found tight end Brant Kuithe for a 20-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. Utah scored twice more in the fourth quarter, and per Whittingham, Covey apologized to the team in the locker room afterward.

“I love it,” Whittingham said. “I didn’t love the penalty, but I loved the juice, and the emotion, and the passion. We were making plays all over the place in that second half. We had so many guys make big plays. I’m not condoning penalties, but I love enthusiasm and guys that are really excited to play and have a passion for what they’re doing.”

Covey said Monday that there was jawing during a couple of plays before the penalty, specifically from Davis, which may have led to the raw emotion tumbling out. Predictably, Covey recognizes that there is no good excuse for costing his team 15 yards in that spot, and he was relieved that Rising and Kuithe bailed him out on the next play.

But, Covey said, he was trying to get his teammates fired up.

Covey did indeed get his teammates fired up. He seems to have fired up the entire fanbase too.

Beyond the Twitter banter, beyond the memes, beyond Covey’s teammates and even Whittingham making fun of him over it for the last three days, Whittingham’s point is an important one as it relates to Covey and Utah’s continued success.

That level of emotion from Covey in the middle of a game is unheard of. Frankly, Covey doesn’t offer a ton of outward emotion at all. Flexing his arms at a defender is wildly out of character, as is drawing a flag of any kind, let alone one for unsportsmanlike conduct.

When Covey is fired up like he was, things are probably going well, and Whittingham is OK with that.

That penalty, and the fact that it became a positive viral moment, is a microcosm of where this team is right now. Playing well, winning, seemingly having fun after a trying few weeks, believing in itself, feeling something significant is still very possible as it takes the Pac-12 South lead to Oregon State on Saturday.

“This team is really fun to be around,” Whittingham said. “There’s a lot of great leaders and the leadership has been outstanding from the onset, but the personality of this team is just more, I don’t want to say jovial, but they’re having a lot of fun this year.

“We have a lot of guys that love football, and it shows, and that’s what you want. You want guys that love football and that is what has been exuded over the course of the season.”