University of Utah Football Coach Jim Fassel said he got a good feeling as his team left the locker room prior to Saturday's 57-28 win over BYU. "When we came out," said Fassel, "I got the feeling we had a heck of a shot at winning. They (Utah) wanted to play but they weren't so high and tight that they couldn't do well. They were loose, they were happy, and they acted excited to play football."
You know the rest. Five interceptions, three fumble recoveries, eight touchdowns, and a record-smashing day.Fassel said afterward he spent a mostly sleepless night. "But I woke up feeling good," he said. He added, however, that he constantly tries not to get too high for wins or low for losses. "You've gotta control that or it will bring you out of coaching," he said. "That's why I try to keep things in perspective."
Saturday's victory over BYU brought a host of records. Utah broke or tied 26 school and four NCAA offensive records on Saturday. In scoring 57 points, the Utes ran up the second-most points ever by a BYU opponent, and the most the Utes have ever scored against the Cougars.
Among the top records were those set by the passing combination of Scott Mitchell-to-Carl Harry. Mitchell set NCA marks for most pass attempts in a season (533), and most yards passing per game (392.9). Team marks for most pass attempts per game (29.7) and first downs passing per game (17.5) were also set. Utah finished the year leading the country in both passing offense and total offense.
Eddie Johnson, Carl Harry and Bryan Bero all set school individual records.
Utah wrapped up the season with four straight victories, making it the best finish since 1978. That year was also the last time a Ute team beat BYU.
"I'm telling you, it's going to be fun living in Utah," said senior defensive back Greg Smith.
Things could get tough in a hurry, though. Next year the Utes play seven road games, including trips to Fresno State, Nebraska, Hawaii, UTEP, Wyoming, Stanford and BYU. At home they play Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State and San Diego State.
"I'm really concerned about the schedule. Getting off on the right foot is so important. If you get off on the wrong foot and stumble, by the time you recover, it can be a tough year. On the other hand, if you get through those first three or four games, things can equal out a little bit."
The Ute losses due to graduation will be significant, mainly in the receiving corps. They will lose the school's top rusher ever in Eddie Johnson and the all-time reception leader in Carl Harry. The other starting wide receiver, Aaron Grimm, and U-back Curt Jones will also be gone, along with fullback Bryan Bero. All totaled, the Utes will lose seven offensive starters. Punter Scott Lieber will also graduate.
The young defense won't be hit so hard, but the losses are significant. Missing will be safeties Eric Jacobsen and Greg Smith, who were the defense's inspirational and statistical leaders.
But the Utes will return the highest profile player on the team, quarterback Scott Mitchell, who will be only a junior. "We're losing a lot, but the main guy is back," said Fassel. Also returning is tight end Dennis Smith.
Fassel said Bero will likely be replaced by redshirt Rod Wells and Johnson by Clifton Smith, who was injured most of this year.
After recruiting heavily for interior players last year, Fassel said his team has good depth remaining. Most of Utah's offensive linemen return, except center Rick Eckles and guard Mike Vyfvinkel. Backup players, such as guard Mike Watson, center Jeff Parsons and tackle Mike Murry, all will have good experience when they return. The coach added that he is now in a position to broaden his recruiting base and look for a player or two in all areas.
Fassel said the win over BYU changed some feelings. "When we'd lose, I felt some anger. I'd be saying `Dang it, we've got to get better. We don't want to lose to BYU forever.' But now, after winning one, it's mainly relief, like, `Boy, I'm really glad it's over.' "