A delayed flight from LAX to Salt Lake City due to a blizzard, unable to locate my car in the airport parking lot due to the same blizzard, driving over an hour at 20-30 mph over the 20 miles from the airport to Sandy due to the same blizzard, having to pull off the road and stay in a Comfort Inn over night because I could not make it home due to the same blizzard, and an awful first day back at school after an infinitely better and warmer Thanksgiving break in Southern California later, I can now sit down to reminisce about the BYU-Utah football game that took place about 48 hours ago.
Stats that need to be thrown around:
1) BYU’s record under Bronco Mendenhall when leading after three quarters prior to Saturday’s BYU-Utah game? 48-1. Last loss was in 2005 vs. TCU in overtime, 50-51.
2) Not since BYU’s 23-20 overtime loss to Boston College in 2006 had the Cougars lost a game decided by 7 points or fewer. That is absurd.
3) Bronco Mendenhall’s November record? 20-3 — all losses to Utah (2005, 2008, 2010).
4) Jake Heaps on Saturday: 22/37 passing for 228 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception. Utah’s Wynn/Cain QB combo: 15/37 passing for 207 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions.
If you were to ask me who won this game after hearing about the QB play and BYU’s 13-0 lead entering the fourth quarter (especially after seeing Bronco’s career stats in that regard), I would have picked BYU 100 times out of 99. No typo there — I would have been that sure of it.
So how is it that Utah pulled out the victory over BYU 17-16 last Saturday? Was I dreaming? What does this mean for the future of each program and the rivalry? Knowing I probably needed a weekend to think this game over and let it settle in so that I am not overly biased toward BYU and a few suspect plays that occurred late in the game, I decided to wait till today to address these questions.
Unfortunately for Ute fans, it has only gotten worse.
My response in regards to how in the world Utah got the victory on Saturday? Luck, fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it. I will call it luck. There were four particular plays that prove this to be a valid conclusion:
1) Early in the fourth quarter with Utah trailing 13-3, the great Jordan Wynn threw up a bomb down the sideline to DeVonte Christopher. The only problem with this play was that BYU’s Brandon Bradley was all over Christopher. In fact, his coverage was so good that he was able to deflect the ball… right into Christopher’s hands for a touchdown.
2) Following a BYU field goal that put the Cougars up 16-10 with about 7 minutes left in the game, the Utes needed to drive 80-plus yards to score a touchdown. Three brilliant defensive plays later from BYU (or three terrible Jordan Wynn balls that missed receivers by a mile — however you wish to look at it, I look at it both ways), Utah was forced to punt in hopes that their defense could get a stop and give their offense another chance to win the game. Fortunately for the Utes, they shanked a punt about 20 yards that happened to find the leg of a BYU player who was blocking a few yards from the sideline. The Utes recovered the fumble and got the ball back with great field position and plenty of time on the clock.
3) Two stellar Jordan Wynn passes later, Brandon Bradley intercepted a pass that, in my opinion, was thrown to one of three BYU defenders, not a Ute wide receiver. The instant I saw Bradley intercept the pass I stood up off my couch and yelled at him four or five times to GET DOWN. The last thing I wanted was the Utes to catch some lucky break and have Bradley fumble the ball he had just intercepted right back to Utah. Of course, he fumbled the ball right back to Utah.
4) Fortunately for Cougar fans, after seeing the replay of this specific fumble mentioned above, we had no need to fear as it was very clear Bradley’s knee was on the ground well before the Utah player forced the fumble. I was not even sweating it. I had no doubt. Three different camera angles, almost a full second of knee-ground contact before the ball was stripped, no problem. BYU ball, 100 times out of 98. Interestingly enough though, despite the advantage of video replay — in slow motion, viewed multiple times — the booth review official ruled the play a fumble, and the Utes were given the ball. At that point there was no question, they were going to score. They did, and won the game 17-16. BYU was not meant to win this game.
To the Ute fans that want to argue that this was actually not luck, I want to ask them what the odds are of Bradley deflecting a perfectly played ball upwards right to the falling Christopher for a touchdown. I want to know what the odds are of the Ute punter shanking one of many punts he kicked all game directly off the BYU player’s leg with such impeccable timing. I want to know the odds that an interception is fumbled right back to the same team that had just turned the ball over — in the same play.
I looked this one up to help you out. It is less than 2 percent.
I want to know, first, the odds that the review booth official assigned to this BYU/Utah game did not have a brain, and then, second, the odds that despite clear evidence the play should be reversed, he decided to call the play as stands. How many times has this happened? Two or three maybe? Ever? Then, after all is said and done and you have calculated the precise numbers in each of these situations, I want you to tell me the odds that they all happen, in the same game, in the same quarter, benefiting the same team. I am 100 percent serious. I want a number.
Aside from dwelling on the past, I decided it would be better for me to take what I learned from this game and figure out what it means for the future of the programs at BYU and Utah. I was not being sarcastic throughout the entire article in reference to Jordan Wynn by accident. If he is the future of the Utah football program at quarterback, then the move to the Pac-12 next season could be a brutal one. He has yet to blossom into a QB that you can trust and that can make big plays, and he definitely has not shown up for any big games (see TCU, Notre Dame, BYU).
I do not and will never blame Utah for bailing on the Mountain West Conference to accept the Pac-12 invitation and, despite the attitude of the majority of this article, I actually will root for Utah to do well in the Pac-12 and represent the MWC and smaller schools in the best way they possibly can. Unfortunately for them, however, I do not foresee anything great in the near future.
BYU, in my opinion, has a much brighter future. The way Jake Heaps played Saturday in his first ever BYU-Utah rivalry game, and considering it was at Rice-Eccles Stadium, was impressive to say the the least. Even after the Cougars found themselves down one point with a couple minutes to go and after two absurd play calls from Robert Annae to start the potentially game-winning drive, Heaps stepped up and looked as poised and composed as any quarterback in the nation playing at any level. His arm is there, his accuracy is there, the IQ is there — but what I had not seen prior to this game was how he would perform in crunch time.
He stepped up. Big time.
Oh yeah, I do not think I mentioned this either, he is still a 19-year-old true freshman. The independent schedule that BYU will face in the near future will make it tough to win every game, but one thing I do not doubt is that Jake Heaps gives the Cougars the best chance to do just that.
Many people are wondering what will happen to the BYU-Utah rivalry. I personally do not think it is going anywhere. Yes, it is true that both schools have parted ways and left the MWC, but if last Saturday’s game showed us one thing, it is that both schools — players and fans united — care about this game more than any other. I do not see that changing whether they meet in November or September.
To end, I would like to share one last final stat, perhaps the best of them all:
1) BYU-Utah in the last 15 years: 12 games decided by 7 points or less, the most by any two teams that have faced one another in the nation.
I learned that this is what counts. This is what the rivalry is all about.