PROVO — Saying that big mistakes proved BYU's undoing Saturday doesn't do justice to the epic scope of the Cougars' self-destructive tendencies in their 54-10 loss to Utah.
Sure, BYU committed seven turnovers and was flagged for nine penalties for 104 yards. But those numbers don't begin to tell the whole story — how two Cougar fumbles were returned for touchdowns, two more fumbles gave the ball to the Utes inside the BYU 10-yard line, and three times a pass interference penalty against the Cougars on third down extended a Utah drive.
"Turnovers played a huge role in the game," a sober Bronco Mendenhall said during his post-game press conference.
The BYU coach pointed to one series of mistakes in particular that he feels turned the tide of the game into a blowout.
On the first drive after halftime with Utah leading 14-10, BYU cornerback Preston Hadley committed a pass interference penalty on third-and-3 to extend the Ute drive. Three plays later, Cougar cornerback Corby Eason gambled for an interception but whiffed on the ball and Utah receiver Dres Anderson dashed for a 59-yard touchdown. After the Utes forced a punt and tacked on a field goal to extend their lead to 24-10, BYU sophomore JD Falslev mishandled the ensuing kickoff and Utah recovered at the 3-yard line; Utah quickly cashed in the turnover for another touchdown.
In less than seven minutes of game time a pass interference penalty, blown coverage and fumbled kickoff transformed a 14-10 halftime deficit into a 30-10 boondoggle.
"That combination of plays was when there started to be a gap different than what it had been prior to that point," Mendenhall said.
The two BYU fumbles that directly resulted in Utah touchdowns occurred early in the first quarter when sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps lost his grip near the goal line and Ute defensive end Derrick Shelby recovered the ball in the end zone; and with five minutes left in the game when Trevor Reilly strip-sacked Cougar quarterback Riley Nelson and Utah's V.J. Fehoko scooped up the ball before rumbling 57 yards to pay dirt.