SALT LAKE CITY — Over the first 96 years, the Utah-BYU football rivalry wasn’t really a rivalry in the sense of competitiveness. Utah dominated the first 75 years before BYU turned the tide and dominated for two decades between 1972 and 1992. The vast majority of the Utah-BYU games were not even close.
However, ever since the Utes took that famous 34-31 victory in Provo in 1993, the BYU-Utah rivalry is unmatched in college football for its sheer competitiveness on the field.
While the Utes own a 15-7 edge in the series since 1993, an astonishing 17 of those 22 games have been decided by a touchdown or less, including two overtimes, with the majority of the contest coming down to the final minute and many on the final play of the game.
To put that in perspective, over the previous 96 years, almost the same number — just 18 Utah-BYU games were decided by seven points or less with many of those coming back in the day when games were much more low-scoring, thus more of a chance for closer games.
Comparing BYU-Utah to other top rivalries over the past 23 years, it’s not even close as far as tight games go.
USC-UCLA? The two Southern California schools have played just seven games where the final margin was a touchdown or less. Oklahoma-Texas? Just eight games that ended within seven points. Both the Alabama-Auburn and Michigan-Ohio State rivalries have each produced just 10 7-point games of their last 23 matchups.
While most of the 17 games haven’t been decided until the final minute, here’s a look at five Utah-BYU games just in the last decade that weren’t decided until the final play, including three of the last four at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
2012 — In the most recent Ute-Cougar game played in Salt Lake City, Utah dominated most of the game, despite not having quarterback Jordan Wynn or running back John White available. Utah led 24-7 going into the fourth quarter, when the Cougars staged a comeback behind quarterback Riley Nelson, closing the gap to 24-21.
The Cougars had a chance to tie the game with a 51-yard field goal with one second left but the try was blocked. However, officials ruled that Utah fans were on the field before the ball was recovered and BYU got one more chance from 15 yards closer. But Riley Stephenson’s try bounced off the left upright as time expired.
2010 — Even though Utah came in at 9-2 as the favorite over 6-5 BYU, the Cougars came out strong behind freshman Jake Heaps and a stout defense and took a 13-0 lead through three quarters. Utah finally came alive behind quarterback Jordan Wynn who replaced Terrance Cain, with a field goal and a touchdown pass to cut the lead to three. BYU made another field goal, but Utah took its first lead on a run by Matt Asiata with 4:24 left.
Heaps then completed 4-of-4 passes for 50 yards, leading the Cougars down to the Utes’ 22-yard line, setting up Matt Payne for a 39-yard field goal with four seconds left. However Utah cornerback Brandon Burton raced around the left end and blocked the kick to preserve the 17-16 Ute win.
2009 — This was the game overshadowed somewhat by Max Hall’s post-game comments about hating Utah, but it was one of BYU’s most exciting finishes ever.
BYU led 20-6 early in the third quarter, but could only manage one first down the rest of the game against the Utes, who rallied with 14 points in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 20-all on a 29-yard field goal by Joe Phillips.
That was Phillips’ fourth field goal of the game, and he added another 29-yard field goal in overtime to put the Utes up 23-20.
But on BYU’s OT possession, on second down from the 25, Hall hit Andrew George at the 20 and he eluded two Ute defenders and went untouched unto the end zone to give BYU a 26-23 victory
2006 — This was one of the better-played games in the rivalry with more than 900 yards of total offense and no turnovers the entire game by either side. BYU jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead, only to have Utah score 24 straight points and lead 24-14 heading into the final quarter.
Then BYU ran off two touchdowns with the PAT on the first being blocked by Utah’s Paul Soliai, which turned out to aid BYU’s victory in the end. Utah came back to take the lead with 1:18 left on a pass from Brett Ratliff to Brent Casteel to make it 31-27. Because of the missed extra point, BYU needed to score a touchdown, and John Beck, who completed 28-of-43 passes for 375 yards on the day, drove his team down to the 11-yard line.
With only time for one play, Beck danced around behind the line of scrimmage for 12 seconds before spotting Jonny Harline on the left side of the end zone for the winning touchdown pass and a 33-31 victory.
2005 — With starting quarterback Brian Johnson having been injured the week before, the Utes had little hope of winning with JC quarterback Brett Ratliff, who had hardly played all season. They were also missing their top receiver John Madsen, who broke his ankle the week before.
The Utes shockingly jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead as Ratliff showed off some surprising running ability (he finished with 112 yards rushing on the day in addition to four TD passes). BYU quickly got back in the game with two touchdowns in the first five minutes of the second half and eventually tied the game at 34.
In the overtime, Ratliff hit Travis LaTendresse with a 25-yard TD pass to put the Utes up by seven. Then the Ute defense took over and on fourth down, John Beck’s pass in the back of the end zone hit nothing but turf, leaving Utah with a 41-34 victory.
Number of annual rivalry games decided by 7 points or less since 1993
Michigan-Ohio State 10