Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Utah quarterback Alex Smith scrambles, leaving BYU defender John Denney lying on the turf.

The national spotlight has never shone brighter on Ute football than it did Saturday night in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which is no stranger to big to-dos after the 2002 Olympics but worse for the wear after fans rushed the field following a 52-21 win over the "Team Down South.".

But did the Utes do enough under the scrutiny of national television, ESPN's GameDay production and a fistful of bowl representatives to put the Utes on the national (read Bowl Championship Series) map?

Did quarterback Alex Smith, who, after all, threw two interceptions in one game for the first time in his collegiate career, do enough to impress the Heisman folk to at least bring him to New York for the presentation?

It was a very "un-Alex-like" performance, admitted coach Urban Meyer, "but we played a very good defensive football team."

The Utes may not have scored at will, as they have in most of their games, but they kept true to their usual game plans — running a fake punt; showing the shovel pass at opportune times; and going for it on fourth down four times and converting three of them.

And Smith came away a winner for the 20th time in his 21 college starts, noted athletic director Chris Hill. So what else is there?

"Alex is a winner. He does what it takes to win," Shelley Meyer, wife of the coach, added.

Ute quarterback coach Dan Mullen, even after this performance, said, "If I had a vote, I'd vote him No. 1." Mullen said that, as a quarterback coach, if he had his pick of quarterbacks in the country — USC's Matt Leinart, Oklahoma's Jason White or Cal's Aaron Rogers or any others — he'd take the unassuming Smith any time.

Mullen said that much of Utah's imprecise offensive game was due not so much to the nerves created by all the cameras and the importance of becoming 11-0 but to the rivalry and to the play of the Cougars. But he noted that Utah was able to run on that BYU defense that prides itself on stopping ballcarriers.

The Utes rang up 354 yards rushing and gained another 184 yards in the air.

Was it enough, though, to impress casual watchers and those whose votes count?

"I hope we did. I hope everyone got a chance to see the type of program we have," Mullen said.

"It's very unlikely to go undefeated in college football now," said cornerback Bo Nagahi, who has fidgeted all season waiting for Meyer to call the fake punt play that he finally got to run on fourth-and-10 from the BYU 36-yard line late in the first half. Nagahi rushed 23 yards to the Cougar 13 to set up a Smith touchdown that put Utah ahead 21-14 and broke the game's last tie.

"I can't believe he called it," said Nagahi, his eyes still wide with delight long after the game had ended. "I love it. We're still trying to realize what's happened."

"I think we did what (nationwide viewers) were looking for. We showed them what they wanted to see. We've done it all year," Nagahi said.

"We didn't let the BCS dictate how we play," said safety Morgan Scalley. Noting players can only vote by what they do on the field when people are watching, he said, "We voted by the way we play."

"I think it was a great picture — 46,000 people in red, the atmosphere," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said.

"It wasn't arguably Utah's best performance, but give BYU credit," Thompson said, agreeing with Mullen.

After the game, Shelley Meyer and her 11-year-daughter got moved around the field with the sea of fans who descended onto the FieldTurf. And she said it was every bit as exciting a picture as she's seen at Ohio State and Notre Dame, where her husband has been an assistant coach.


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