PROVO – After every football game the losing team’s coach frequently says about the winning team, “They just made the plays when it mattered and we didn’t.” It’s a common and normally obvious post-game assessment.
Never was a statement like this more appropriate than in Utah’s 54-10 win over BYU. The Utes made many more big plays, committed fewer mistakes, executed with more efficiency and played with more consistency.
Here are the five main reasons Utah won:
1. Edge in turnovers – OK, Utah failed to score after two of BYU’s seven turnovers, including a wasted opportunity deep in BYU territory, but there is no doubt the three biggest plays of the game were the bad snap by BYU center Terence Brown three plays into the game that resulted in a touchdown when Utah’s Derrick Shelby recovered the loose ball in the end zone; Mo Lee’s recovery of JD Falslev’s muffed kick off on the 3-yard line after Utah had just scored on its third-straight drive to take a 14-point lead; and Trevor Reilly’s hit on BYU QB Jake Heaps late in the third quarter that resulted in another fumble – which eventually resulted in another Coleman Petersen field goal that gave Utah a commanding 23-point lead with one quarter remaining.
The Utes scored 31 points off of BYU’s seven turnovers, but in reality it was more like a 38-point difference because of the forced fumble by BYU running back JJ Di Luigi inside Utah’s 10-yard line when the Cougars were threatening to score midway through the first quarter. Just as critical for Utah, was BYU’s failure to score after the Utes’ two turnovers. Both of Utah’s turnovers proved to be harmless, while the Cougars paid the price big time for their mistakes.
2. Taking control of the game – The game’s most important drive came in the final minutes of the second quarter when Utah went 63 yards in six plays to take a 14-10 halftime lead and steal the game’s momentum for good.
Utah’s six-play 75-yard scoring drive to open the second half, capped by Jordan Wynn’s 59-yard TD pass to Dres Anderson, really took the wind out of BYU. While Utah was consistently converting and moving the football for the game’s final 35 minutes, BYU was sputtering.
After Heaps’ 32-yard TD strike to Ross Apo to give the Cougars a 10-7 lead late in the first half, BYU seemed to have the game going its way and seemed to have turned its big-play players loose. From that point on, however, the Utes scored 47 unanswered points. In BYU’s eight possessions after Apo’s TD catch, the Cougars punted three times, turned the ball over three times and turned the ball over on downs twice.
3. Big catches by Utah’s tight ends – The Utes traditionally have not thrown to their tight ends much, instead using them mainly for blocking. Under new offensive coordinator Norm Chow, however, there appears to be a new philosophy. One of the game’s biggest plays was the catch by freshman tight end Jake Murphy (once a BYU commit) on a third-and-seven that kept Utah’s final first-half drive alive. Without that catch, BYU gets the ball back and a chance to extend its lead at the break. Murphy had two more catches in the drive, including the big one – the 30-yard TD catch that gave Utah the lead for good.
Even though fellow tight end Dallin Rogers didn’t have as big of catch, he still had some important ones that kept drives alive for Utah. He finished with four receptions for 32 yards.
4. Penalties – Utah, despite being flagged for three penalties for 26 yards, clearly benefited from BYU’s lack of discipline. After playing two fairly clean games to start the season, the Cougars were careless in this one. They were called for nine penalties for 104 yards.
Three of those penalties were pass interference calls that kept Utah drives alive. Perhaps the biggest penalty was an illegal motion call in the second quarter that cost the Cougars a key first down and eventually forced them to punt.
5. Utah’s bend but not break defense – At halftime BYU had more total yards than Utah but the Utes still led by four. That’s because Utah allowed BYU to have only one sustained drive the entire game, and that was really a big-play drive more than a ball-control drive. The Cougars finished with 354 yards of total offense but only 10 points. That’s the definition of bending but not breaking. The Cougars had only 11 rushing yards. BYU also was only 6 of 17 on third-down conversions.