Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Turns out Utah running back John White IV wasn't 100 percent.
Turns out special teams was every bit as important as coaches thought it might be.
And it turns out a lot can happen without much showing up on the scoreboard.
Fumbles, penalties and kicking woes for both teams marred the first half of the rivalry game in which the teams went to their locker rooms in a 7-7 tie.
BYU went into the break with 119 yards of total offense, while Utah had accumulated a slightly better 142 yards. Neither team was effective on the ground game with the Cougars earning 45 yards on 17 carries, while Utah earned 30 yards on 18 carries.
The kicking game for both teams was shaky with Coleman Peterson's field goal attempt being blocked and Justin Sorensen's 44-yard field goal attempt missing wide of the goal posts.
The first quarter was bleakest for BYU as the Cougars' only first down came from penalties. Nelson fared better in the second quarter with nine first downs, but he was an abysmal 1-for-7 on third down conversions.
While nearly every running back on the Utah roster had a chance to carry the ball except White, the Utes could barely move the ball. Lucky for them John Hays proved he's worthy of the starting job. He finished with 13-for-21 passing and 112 yards and a touchdown.
Riley Nelson completed 7-of-13 for 74 yards. Each quarterback was sacked twice and Jon Hays was hit as he threw twice but got the throw off for key plays.
Utah scored first after a 55-yard punt return by Charles Henderson put them near midfield. Hays then connected with Westlee Tonga for a 17-yard touchdown play at 9:12 in the first quarter.
JD Falslev did the same for the Cougars in the second quarter when he returned Sean Sellwood's punt 34 yards to give BYU the ball at the Utah 48-yard line. Four plays and 33 yards later, Nelson connected with Cody Hoffman for six points. The kick was good to tie the score.
BYU's first play of the game gave fans a wicked case of déjà vu when the center rocketed the ball over Nelson's head. It was eerily reminiscent of the start of last year's blow out at Lavell Edwards Stadium when the first snap of the game was fumbled for former quarterback Jake Heaps.
But the Cougars caught a break when Joe Kruger grabbed Nelson's face mask after he picked the ball up in the end zone. That gave the Cougars the ball at the 20-yard line.
Hays attempted and made some impressive throws and was definitely a bright spot of the game for Utah. Nelson struggled to get into a rhythm and BYU fumbled three times, although they recovered it all three times.
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