PROVO With the way BYU's offense floundered this season, it seemed entirely possible that the Cougars' storied NCAA-record scoring streak would be snapped at some point in the foreseeable future.
Fittingly, in the season-finale of a year plagued by offensive ineptitude, BYU watched its 28-year-old streak of 361 games without being shut out end Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium with a 3-0 blanking to arch-rival Utah.
"I never thought that would ever happen. I didn't think it would be possible," said senior linebacker Mike Tanner. "I thought there'd be some way we'd get points on the board. We didn't and that's frustrating. That's kind of the way the year has gone."
BYU's scoring streak began after a 20-0 loss to Arizona State on Sept. 25, 1975. Saturday marked the first time the Cougars failed to score at home since Sept. 26, 1970, a 17-0 defeat against UTEP.
For the Cougars (4-8), who have now suffered back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in more than 30 years, it was another dubious setback of historic proportions. It was especially difficult for the BYU defense, which held Utah out of the end zone.
"It's a tough thing to swallow, to be part of a team breaking that record," said defensive lineman Ifo Pili. "It adds on."
"I don't know if I had ever been a part of team or even seen a game 3-zip as far as I can remember," Tanner said. "It's just really hard when guys lay it on the field. I envisioned a 7-3 victory and it didn't happen. It's sad. You don't want to lose to Utah, especially in your last game. No one could have ever told me that if Utah scored three points, we'd lose."
"That's a tough one to lose because that's a wonderful streak that BYU should be proud of," said BYU coach Gary Crowton. "It will be hard to break. What we want to do is start a new one first game next year against Southern Cal."
BYU's best chance to score Saturday came at the end of the first half when the Cougars marched to the Utah 32-yard line. Matt Payne's 51-yard field goal attempt, into a brisk wind, sailed wide right. BYU never penetrated any deeper into Utah territory.
"It was a phenomenal number of games that they had not been shut out," said Utah coach Urban Meyer. "That tells you what type of football team we're playing against. For many years they've been good on offense, and have struggled a little bit this year. We came out with our 'A' game on defense."
The Cougars made a number of mistakes against the Utes, just as they had all season. The most memorable came with about three minutes remaining in the game, when Toby Christensen fumbled a punt that was recovered by Utah's Casey Evans at the BYU 22-yard line.
"One guy who I didn't think would fumble, the most sure-handed guy on our team is Toby Christensen," Crowton said. "He's just heartbroken in there. He felt like he let people down. The thing about Toby that I really respect is he has a lot of heart. To see him end his career on that, I don't want him to feel bad about it. I feel bad about it in the game, but I want to remember the good things he's done. He's a guy who's an overachiever and works hard. I have a lot of respect for him."
That was one of three BYU turnovers and the Cougars gained only 156 yards of total offense. Quarterbacks Matt Berry and Jackson Brown combined to complete 4-of-14 passes for 41 yards and two interceptions.
Meanwhile, BYU's defense limited Utah's offense to 220 yards. While the defense was outstanding, Pili committed a critical 15-yard personal foul penalty when he pushed a Ute offensive lineman in the back in the first half. That penalty helped push the Utes into field goal range and Bryan Borreson capped the drive by drilling a 41-yard field goal that turned out to be the only points scored in the contest.
"We committed too many penalties and personal fouls that cost us," Crowton said.
"I got pushed from behind," Pili explained. "I got caught up in the heat of the game."
In the fourth quarter, the Cougars drove to the Utah 44-yard line with a chance to tie the game or take the lead when, on second-and-three, center Scott Jackson uncorked an errant snap to Jackson Brown out of the shotgun formation that resulted in a 12-yard loss.
"There is some frustration there," Crowton said. "You see a couple of things going right, then you make an error like that and all of the sudden it's a (12-yard) loss. Scott Jackson has had very few bad snaps, if any, this season. He's done an admirable job. Sometimes, those things happen."
Overall, Crowton said he was happy that his team had a chance to defeat the Mountain West Conference champions."I was very pleased at how we as a team went toe-to-toe with them, right to the end, especially after all the adversity we had faced this year and not meeting the expectations of the season we wanted to have," Crowton said.