It really shouldn't have been a surprise. Both defenses had proved their mettle over the course of the season, but no one figured they would dominate. It was a game worthy of the rivalry, with both teams coming up with clutch plays and the lead changing hands twice in the waning moments. In the end, BYU's defense was slightly better than the Utah defense, limiting the visitors' offense to 115 rushing yards and 129 passing yards, and the Cougars' offense was clearly better, rolling up 424 total yards and marching 80 yards in 56 seconds to earn the winning score.
Although the Cougars never trailed until Darrell Mack found the end zone from a yard out with 1:34 left, the BYU lead was never more than six, and never comfortable. The Utes found a way to slow the league's most prolific offense, holding BYU to a single field goal in the first half and keeping the Cougars out of the end zone until Harvey Unga burst up the middle with 38 seconds left. After a delay penalty, Max Hall found Austin Collie in the back of the end zone for a two-point conversion and the final margin.
Unga was the Cougars' most valuable player, rushing for 141 yards and his team's only touchdown, redeeming himself for a drop on the previous possession that would have been a walk-in touchdown. He also became the first BYU freshman to rush for more than 1,000 yards, and collected his sixth 100-yard game of the season.
Hall completed only 17 of 41 for no scores, his poorest outing of the year, but he completed the one that mattered, the game's biggest play, without which Utah wins the game and bragging rights to a better season. After the Utes converted five third downs to take their only lead, the Cougars snapped the ball at their own 20. As Hall dropped back to pass on first down, the ball was knocked from his grasp and he was forced to fall on it at the BYU 12. Two incomplete passes led to fourth-and-18, and Utah was on the cusp of victory and a stellar upset win. Somehow, Austin Collie got behind the defense and a scrambling Hall found him for 49 yards. In a stroke, all the pressure shifted to Utah, and the Cougars forced the issue for the win.
The Utah coaching staff deserves tremendous credit after starting the season 1-3 but going on to win seven straight. A win over BYU would have evened the teams' records in the loss column, kept alive Ute hopes of a share of the conference crown, and completed a great comeback to what appeared to be a lost season. It nearly happened.
BYU clinched its second-straight outright conference title and kept the Cougars undefeated in conference over the last two years, with one game to play. A win next week will cap a great season in what could well have been a rebuilding year on offense. Assistant coach Jaime Hill, charged with the defensive secondary, again deserves assistant coach of the year honors. Nobody seems to remember that BYU lost three starters (or in David Tafuna's case, a probable starter) in the secondary, two before a ball was ever snapped.
Next up: For BYU, at San Diego State. For Utah, a bowl game.
In the Border War, the Rams picked up their third win of the season. Wyoming rallied, taking a one-point lead at 28-27 early in the fourth quarter, but CSU got a great runback on the ensuing kickoff and scored the winning touchdown just six plays later.
Unofficial reports state that Sonny Lubick will retire after having spent 15 years in Ft. Collins. On the other sideline, 10 Wyoming penalties, two lost fumbles and a missed field goal capped a four-game skid to end the Cowboys' season at 5-7. It may cost Coach Joe Glenn his job.
Both teams' seasons are over.
Marcus Smith caught a 63-yard touchdown pass and returned the second-half kickoff 82 yards to set up a second score as the Lobos finished their regular season 8-4.
Both teams' seasons are likely over. New Mexico has a slim chance of a bowl game.
TCU 45, San Diego State 33
The Aztecs jumped out to a 17-0 lead, but TCU woke up and scored 42 points in two quarters to reestablish superiority.
Next up: for San Diego State, BYU. For TCU, a bowl game.
Air Force did not play. The Falcons await a bowl bid.
The Bowl Outlook
BYU, now at 9-2 and 7-0, clinched the conference title outright. A third-straight trip to Las Vegas is guaranteed unless the BCS takes the Cougars. It's unlikely, but losses by teams in BCS-affiliated conferences and BCS rules could result in too few teams eligible to fill the available slots.
The likely bowl scenarios for the Mountain West Conference are as follows:
Air Force: Armed Forces Bowl.
Utah: Poinsettia Bowl versus Navy.
TCU: New Mexico Bowl.
New Mexico, which would have benefited by a TCU loss in San Diego, has a slim chance at an at-large bid due to other conferences not producing enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all their slots.