“It’s emotionally draining, but we’ve won nine of the last 12, so maybe we want to play them more.”
— Kyle Whittingham
Of course Whittingham’s Utes won’t get to play BYU in 2014 or 2015. But his assessment may be even more astute. After all, Whittingham’s team has not even trailed in six of the past 11 rivalry games against the Cougars. That includes this year’s contest, which featured a strong start as part of a 20-13 win.
Those other contests don’t include Utah’s 54-10 shellacking in 2011, when the Utes capitalized on seven BYU turnovers for their most lopsided win over the Cougars since 1931.
In those half-dozen contests, the Cougars have made some comebacks before coming up short. But from a snow bowl shutout to two blowout victories, overall the Utes have dominated BYU over the past decade-plus in a fashion more dramatic than Whittingham’s count.
See the overview of the five previous games prior to 2013 that Utah controlled.
Rhett Wilkinson is a project manager for UtahPolicy.com and hails the true-blooded Aggies from Utah. The co-founder of magazine Aggie BluePrint.com, he's been an intern for the Deseret News and other publications. firstname.lastname@example.org | @wilklogan
After one big victory, Whittingham said that his team should have had three additional wins on its ledger.
That’s because Utah fans thought they saw three different endings.
First, BYU quarterback Riley Nelson’s arm was hit and his pass fell incomplete as the clock counted down to zero. But he jumped back to his feet and pled for another tick. Officials reviewed the play and let the Cougars huddle once more.
They cleared the field and Justin Sorensen lined up for a 51-yard attempt, but his kick was blocked by NFL first-round draft pick Star Lotulelei.
The referees weren’t done clearing the field. Ute fans were called for unsportsmanlike conduct for rushing the field before time expired. That allowed Stephenson a re-kick 15 yards closer to the uprights. However, Stephenson saw the ball hit the left goal post.
As dramatic as the finish(es) were, Utah actually built a 24-7 lead after scoring two touchdowns in 62 seconds. Defensive back Moe Lee took a 47-yard fumble recovery to the house. Then Jon Hays connected with Dres Anderson on a 39-yard touchdown pass with less than one minute left in the third quarter.
BYU’s “Quest for Perfection” was realized by its archrival after the seventh-ranked Utes defeated the 14th-ranked Cougars and advanced to their second BCS bowl in five seasons. The game featured the best combined records of the two teams of any game in the series. Utah was 11-0 and BYU was 10-1.
BYU quarterback Max Hall is often remembered for throwing five interceptions. They led to three touchdowns and all came after midway through the second quarter, allowing Utah to break open a 17-17 tie.
Utah signal-caller Brian Johnson threw for 303 yards and four touchdowns. An on-field celebration resembled the one seen in 2004, when Ute fans celebrated their first BCS-busting win.
Who is Brett Ratliff?
That was the question entering the 2005 rivalry. By halftime, when Utah had a 24-3 lead, the question of Cougar fans was why their team had no answer for him.
Ratliff accounted for 352 total yards, showing flashes of his future NFL career in his first collegiate start. The junior college transfer’s first two drives ended with touchdown passes. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall acknowledged that his defense didn’t know Ratliff could run so well.
The Cougars did make some adjustments. BYU tied the game for the first time with just 4:50 remaining, after a 37-yard field goal from Jared McLaughlin. But Utah recovered with a 25-yard strike from Ratliff to Travis LaTendresse on the first play of overtime. BYU’s John Beck responded by floating a fourth-down pass that fell harmless.
"It's the sweetest victory I've ever been a part of," Whittingham said after the game. "I could not be more proud of a football team."
It’s the twin of the 2008 game, this one starring Urban Meyer and Alex Smith — and the ESPN Game Day crew. It was close near halftime before undefeated Utah broke it open to break down the BCS door.
As opposed to the other contests in Rice-Eccles Stadium, however, the Utes weren’t aided by an outpouring of BYU turnovers. One helped swing things Utah’s way, however. Current sideline reporter Bo Nagahi had a 12-yard fumble recovery early in the third quarter, and Steve Savoy built the momentum with a 92-yard run and 20-yard touchdown reception just 10 minutes apart from each other. Defensive lineman Steve Fifita added a pounding four-yard run with just a minute left in the game to put salt in the wound.
Star San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle has called this one the favorite Utah-BYU game in his career.
In beating what Meyer called “The Team Down South,” the Utes merely needed a 41-yard field goal from former soccer star Bryan Borreson midway through the second quarter. In a snow-packed contest at LaVell Edwards Stadium, neither team hardly moved. The Liberty Bowl-bound, Mountain West Conference champion Utes gained just 220 total yards to the Cougars’ 156. Utah averaged 3.3 yards per play; BYU, 3.4. Alex Smith was named to the all-Mountain West Conference team but was just 11-of-19 for 113 yards that day. Brandon Warfield joined Smith in all-league honors but managed just 50 net yards on 18 carries in his final collegiate game.
Not much excitement for the 64,486 freezing fans to behold.
It was thrilling for Weddle, though. As a freshman from Fontana, Calif., even the slowed-down game didn’t keep him from sensing the passion of the rivalry, he said.
Undoubtedly, the Utes have channeled that passion in successful ways in recent years.