Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Just when you thought a Utah-BYU game couldn't get any crazier, along came Saturday night's game that combined several memorable moments from games of recent years.
Let's see, we had the unlikely BYU last-minute 4th-down pass from inside the 20 from Riley Nelson to Cody Hoffman for 47 yards that was shades of 2000 — Brandon Doman's 4th-and-13, 34-yard pass to Jonathan Pittman, and 2007 when Max Hall found Austin Collie on a 4th-and-18 pass for 49 yards, which both led to BYU victories.
We also had the last-second blocked kick by Utah that apparently ended the game (before fans rushed the field), similar to Brandon Burton's block in 2010 that preserved a Ute win.
Then there was Riley Stephenson's field goal try on the final play of the game, which doinked off the upright, shades of 1998 when Ryan Kaneshiro's potential game-winning field goal try for Utah hit the upright.
A few more thoughts on Saturday night's thriller …
Immediately after it happened, some folks in the press box were comparing the ending of the game to the 1972 Olympics gold medal basketball final when the Russian basketball team was given three chances in the final seconds against the United States to throw a length-of-the-court pass.
The difference was that the Russians succeeded on their third try and beat the Americans by one point in what is still a very controversial outcome. BYU's third try didn't turn out quite so well.
Many tweeters and bloggers have pointed out a possible reason why BYU missed its last-second field goal that could have forced overtime.
The kick came just a couple of minutes before midnight, so if it had been good, the game would have gone into overtime, necessitating play on Sunday, a no-no for BYU teams.
However, when the goalpost got in the way of Stephenson's potential game-tying kick, that made sure the Cougars didn't have to be competing on the Sabbath.
Do you think it's about time Utah coaches acquaint their special teams on exactly what they're supposed to do on blocked field goal attempts?
In 2010, when Burton blocked a kick that ended up in front of the line of scrimmage, the Utes should have let the ball go because it couldn't be advanced by BYU. Instead, a couple of Utes ran to jump on the ball, which if they'd missed could have given the Cougars the chance to pick up the loose ball.
Then on Saturday, when Utah blocked Justin Sorensen's field goal try and the ball went behind the line of scrimmage, more than one Ute player let the ball go when they should have pounced on it. If they had done that, it wouldn't have mattered that the fans ran on the field, because the Utes would have held possession.
And how about snaps from center. You'd think the most basic part of football is getting the ball from the center to the quarterback, but twice, the snap from center sailed past BYU quarterback Riley Nelson when he was apparently looking elsewhere.
The first one would have been a safety except for a face-mask penalty on Utah. The second was the turning point of the game, transforming a possible 10-10 tie or 14-10 BYU lead into a 17-7 Utah lead.
Coaches often call timeout in an effort to "ice" kickers before last-season field goal tries. Often it seems to give the kicker extra time to regroup, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he considered it just before Stephenson's unsuccessful try.
"I was about to call timeout, but for whatever reason … I guess Big Fred said no," Whittingham said, referring to his late father.
Whittingham isn't known for his one-liners, but after the wild win over BYU he quipped, "We had to win the game three times there at the end — I think we're 4-1 right now."
If Utah could get penalized for having fans on the field during a live play, what about BYU coaches clearly being on the field during the blocked field goal play? Doesn't it work both ways? Also, what would happen if fans from the opposing team went onto the field? Or does it only apply to home fans? Just wondering.
And finally, we have to ask the question again. Why is Utah taking a couple of years off in the annual series with BYU?
After all, the Utes have won three in a row for the third time in 20 years, over which time they've won 13 times. Why should they be so afraid of losing?
And you couldn't ask for better games. Except for Ute blowouts in 2011, 2008 and 2004, every other game this century has come down to the final minute, often the final seconds.
But instead of Utah vs. BYU in 2014 and 2015, we're going to get Utah playing someone like Tulsa or Colorado State instead, while BYU may have to come up with someone like Weber State or Idaho State to fill in the gap.
It's a shame.
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