Did you expect anything different? The Utah-BYU game did what it always does when one team isn't significantly better than the other. It came down to the final play, and the better team used its best player to make the play that won it. Max Hall was the best player on either team last year. Brandon Burton is the best player on either team this year. Burton's game winning blocked field goal will go down in Ute lore as one of the greatest plays in the history of the program.
Ugly. That's the best way to describe the game. It was cold, there was snow on the ground, and neither team played particularly well. Mistakes were made on both sides and the officiating left a lot to be desired, yet it was one of the most exciting and entertaining fourth quarters and finished you'll ever seen.
In their last regular season game as members of the Mountain West, and the last home game for the seniors (and likely Brandon Burton), Utah did something it really hadn't done all year…win despite playing poorly. The mark of a good team or are they as flawed as they've appeared since the end of October? At this point it doesn't really matter as the Utes set sail one more time in a bowl game as a member of the Mountain West before heading off into the Pac 12.
The Utes didn't do anything offensively for three quarters, and looked worse on that side of the ball than they did against either TCU or Notre Dame. I'll give the BYU defense credit for shutting down the run game early on, and not letting Jordan Wynn get into a rhythm with constant pressure. Wynn though, was bad. His 13-30 effort was arguably the worst of his career statistically, with most of the Utah points being the result of turnovers forced by the defense. Misfire after misfire and looking uncomfortable in the pocket are becoming all too common themes with Wynn. Being able to take almost a month before his next game, work on his mechanics, get his timing down, and his confidence back will be huge in his progression into next season. He wasn't very good against BYU last year, and responded in his next game with a great performance against Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl. All that being said, Wynn made the big plays when he had to. He led his team to 17 fourth quarter points, had two huge passes to Dallin Rogers that led to a touchdown and DeVonte Christopher that resulted in a touchdown.
The insertion of Terrance Cain turned out to be a better move than the numbers he produced indicated. Cain was worse than Wynn, but it gave Jordan a chance to sit back, watch things unfold in front of him for a few minutes, regain his composure, and get ready to play again. The fire that Whitt lit under his butt worked.
Big plays. This team won this game in a manner similar to the San Diego State game. Despite being out played each of the last two weeks, the Utes simply made more big plays. The Brandon Burton deflection to Brian Blechen for an interception, the Kendrick Moeia strip of Brian Logan, the deflected pass by Burton on fourth down, and finally, Burton's blocked field goal at the end. The Utes made the big plays that BYU didn't, and for that reason alone, they were victorious in a game in which they were outplayed.
Kudos to the defense. They were very good for much of the game. I've said it time and time again this year; this might be the best bend but don't break defense in the country. The fourth down stop of BYU when trailing 6-0 kept the game from getting out of hand. Stepping up and making big stops on third down situation over and over. The most unsung play may have been the third down stop right before the final kick where Chad Manis and Sealver Siliga took down Brian Kariya for a 3 yard loss, pushing the field goal back to that dreaded 40+ marker instead of from 39. Did those couple of yards make a difference? I think so.
A great send-off for the seniors in their final home game. Guys like Zane Taylor, Caleb Schlauderaff, Matt Asiata, Eddie Wide, Shaky Smithson, Jereme Brooks, Joe Phillips, and a host of others will never forget their final home game in a Utah uniform. The winningest group of seniors in Ute history deserved to go out with a bang, and they did.
Utah proved their superiority over BYU. Yeah, BYU has won a couple of nail biters over the past couple of years, but in their last game as conference foes, as non-BCS teams (although BYU is still going to technically be a non-BCS team), the Utes put a nail into the coffin of a bad BYU year. Despite their early season struggles, and a record that is well below BYU standards, a win over Utah in the regular season finale would have erased much of that. Instead, BYU limps off into a bowl with a .500 record, a lot of what-ifs, and a bad taste in their mouth. Utah is off to the Pac 12, getting a chance to play with the big boys. BYU is off to independence, with a WAC schedule on the horizon and still without a realistic shot of playing for a national title. Utah as the little brother? Not anymore.
Now the big question is what happens with the rivalry now that they aren't in the same conference and the game likely won't be taking place at the end of the season any time soon. Colorado and Colorado State seem to have kept the liveliness in their matchup despite playing the opening week of the year and being in separate conferences. Notre Dame and USC have had October matchups and have managed to maintain a nice level of hatred. Miami and Florida State have done the same. While I do think the rivalry as a whole will take a minor step back, it's still going to be one of the most intense and respected rivalries in the country.
On to the bowl game. The most likely destination is Vegas, but there are other scenarios being throw around in which the Utes go to San Diego, New Mexico, and Shreveport. With a month to prepare and a mediocre Washington squad the probable opponent, expect the bowl win streak to reach 10.
Utes Squeak By BYU In A Thriller
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