Defense makes, then breaks Utes in loss

PROVO–For three years, offense has taken center stage at the annual matchup between BYU and Utah. This year it was defense that ruled the state’s biggest rivalry game.Not that this was any surprise.

Going into the game, BYU ranked No. 14 in the country total defense. Utah was right behind its southern rival at No. 16. The stat sheet was a direct representation of Cougars’ defensive performance as BYU held the Utes to 244 yards of total offense-which is nearly 130 yards less than their season average. Utah’s defensive effort was evident in a different way.

BYU was able to move the ball 287 yards by the end of the third quarter. Tailback Harvey Unga had 128 yards on the ground by himself. But it was Utah’s ability to slow the Cougars once they crossed midfield that enabled the Utes to have a strong showing defensively.

During the first three-and-a-half quarters BYU had five drives inside of Utah’s 35-yard line, including two that went inside Utah’s five. The Utes yielded just three field goals out of those visits.

“I could be more proud of a defense,” Utah safety Steve Tate said. It’s a tough offense to prepare for. We just knew that this game was going to come down to third downs and getting out of bad situations and we did that most of the game.”

It was that Utah defense that also delivered the first blow of the game.

On BYU’s third offensive possession, Joe Jiannoni intercepted Max Hall pass at the BYU 16-yard line on the first play of the drive to put Utah’s offense in the red zone midway through the first quarter. Utah’s offense failed to exchange the turnover for points.

The Utes didn’t have to wait long, however, to gets its second big defensive play of the quarter. After a lengthy BYU drive, Ute defensive end Martail Burnett stripped Unga of the ball after the Cougars had made it inside the Utah 27-yard line.

Again, Utah’s offense could not capitalize on the turnover, but that didn’t stop the resolve of the Ute defense.

After Johnson’s second interception at the 7:42 mark in the second quarter gave BYU the ball at the Utah 40, the Utes’ defense bent but did not break. BYU drove the ball to the Utah 4-yard line before being forced to settle for a 22-yard field goal for the only score of the first half.

In the second half, the Ute defense held BYU to just two more field goals as they patiently waited for Johnson and the Utes’ offense to capitalize on their defensive stops. With 1:34 remaining a 69-yard Utah drive rewarded the defensive effort and gave the team a 10-9 lead.

All the U defense had to do was hold BYU for one final drive.

On the ensuing first-down play, Burnett forced his second fumble of the game. BYU quarterback Max Hall recovered leaving BYU with a second-and-18 situation. On second down, Dennis Pitta dropped Hall’s pass leaving BYU with a long third-down play. Once again Pitta was Hall’s target, and this time safety Robert Johnson nearly picked off Hall’s pass setting up a desperation fourth-and-18 situation for the home team. In a game that was so heavily dictated by the defenses of both teams, all it took was one defensive lapse to change the entire outcome.

With the Utes in a cover-2 scheme, the Utah secondary somehow overlooked BYU receiver Austin Collie. As Hall was flushed from the pocket, he found the neglected Collie for a 49-yard pass that gave BYU a first down and continued what turned out to be the game-winning drive.

“It was a tough loss to swallow,” U head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Like last year, one play way from finishing the deal and (we) weren’t able to finish the deal. Obviously in that (cover-2) situation you’re not suppose to let guys get behind you, but it happens.”[email protected]

Lennie Mahler

Brian Johnson leaves as BYU fans storm the field at Lavell Edwards Stadium on Saturday. After leading 10-9 with less than a minute left, the Utes fell behind to lose 17-10 when BYU rallied to score a touchdown and complete a two-point conversion.