SALT LAKE CITY — Eight is too much.
That’s how BYU is feeling after squandering a 27-7 lead against Utah late in the third quarter Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium and falling to the Utes by eight points — 35-27 — marking the Cougars’ eighth consecutive loss in the rivalry game.
“It hurts,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “It’s supposed to hurt so you can remember it.”
The Cougars won’t have to wait too long for another shot at Utah, who will visit Provo next August in the season-opener for both teams.
No doubt, Saturday’s outcome will sting for a long time.
BYU (6-6) jumped out to a fast start and dominated the first half, taking a 20-0 lead into intermission. But in the second half, the Utes outscored BYU, 35-7.
“We let it slip through our hands,” said tight end Matt Bushman. “It leaves a bad taste in our mouths.”
The Cougars’ collapse began early in the third quarter when Julian Blackmon intercepted BYU freshman quarterback Zach Wilson for a 27-yard pick-six that got the Utes on the scoreboard.
That marked Utah’s fourth pick-six against the Cougars in the last three rivalry games.
Two BYU defensive starters, Corbin Kaufusi and Isaiah Kaufusi, both suffered injuries in the third quarter and didn’t return. And their absence certainly hurt the Cougars.
BYU running back Matt Hadley ran 21 times for 69 yards and two touchdowns. but he, too, went down with an injury in the second half.
Meanwhile, Utah got its run game going and it scored three touchdowns in the final quarter.
The Utes piled up 131 of their 296 total yards in the fourth quarter. BYU gained just 110 yards in the second half.
“We knew they were going to try to establish the run,” Sitake said. “But you can’t have a pick-six. … We knew this is a team that was going to make a comeback. But we just needed to find a way to end it, and we couldn’t do that.”
Wilson showed tremendous poise playing in his first rivalry game. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 204 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He ran 14 times for 91 yards and was sacked three times.
BYU, which has struggled all year with slow starts, got the first break of the game, recovering a muffed punt. Five plays later, the Cougars cashed in with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Neil Pau’u.
While BYU’s defense was forcing three straight three-and-outs, the Cougars scored another TD on a 26-yard pass from Wilson to Bushman.
BYU continued to make big plays, from Isaiah Kaufusi’s pass breakup on a long pass to Khyiris Tonga blocking a 54-yard field goal attempt by Matt Gay.
After that block, the Cougars embarked on a 14-play, 64-yard drive that chewed 6:22 off the clock. The drive included a nifty scramble on third-and-10 for a 12-yard first-down run by Wilson and Wilson’s 24-yard strike to Dallin Holker to the Utah 1-yard line.
With 25 seconds left in the half, Hadley scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge to give BYU a 20-0 lead at intermission.
The Cougars outgained the Utes at halftime, 247 yards to 49 yards.
But, in the second half, Utah took control of the game.43 comments on this story
“Utah made some great plays to flip the momentum,” said BYU wide receiver Micah Simon. “I just wish we could have come out on top.”
The Cougars are bowl-eligible but are waiting to find out about a postseason destination.
In the meantime, BYU will have to live with the reality of having lost an eighth-straight game to its archrivals.
“This one really hurt but I’m proud of how our guys played,” Sitake said. “We couldn’t finish the deal. We made too many mistakes. You can’t do that against a great team like Utah.”