Once again, the Holy War did not disappoint. Utah beat BYU 20-19 with a thrilling defensive stop on a 2-point conversion with less than 20 seconds left in the game. That means that the Utes are on a six-game winning streak against the BYU Cougars, with five of those games being decided by 7 points or less. In addition, the game was predictably unpredictable with 9 total turnovers, ejections, and an ending that no one saw coming. God bless the Holy War.
Offense Played Well Despite Self-Inflicted Mistakes
It isn’t often that Kyle Whittingham is optimistic after one turnover in the game, let alone SIX turnovers. But Kyle mentioned after the game that the Utah offense was playing great until they made mistakes and turned over the ball. This was a true statement as Troy Williams (QB) moved the ball pretty well throughout the game until the turnover bug hit the offense over and over and over again. Two of the three interceptions that Troy threw were just horrible lapses in judgement. He starred into triple coverage both times, once in the endzone, and tried to force the ball to make a play rather than conceding the play to the defense and live another down. The third interception was just a great play made by the defender down the sideline. But the first two are red flags that need correcting as soon as possible. Triple coverage should never be tested unless it is a hail-mary situation or your name is Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. The silver-lining from these interceptions is that Troy has the chance to now learn from those mistakes prior to conference play, and Utah is 2-0 despite leaving points on the field from the interceptions.
The other turnovers were fumbles from Raelon Singleton (WR), Joe Williams (RB), & Boobie Hobbs (PR), but the more egregious issue was all of the fumbles that were not lost. There must have been six other times in which the ball carrier had the ball slip out of their hands and luckily bounce back into the offenses arms. A 6 turnover game could have easily turned into a 12 turnover game without that luck. Clearly, the players need to be more careful with the ball across the board. The player I am most worried about is Joe Williams (RB). This was the sixth straight game, counting 2015, in which Joe has fumbled the football. If turnovers are a sin in the eyes of Kyle Whittingham, then fumbling the football is definitely the cardinal sin. Kyle absolutely DESPISES it. For that reason, Kyle has moved Joe to the 3rd string for week 3 against San Jose State, and true Freshman Zack Moss (RB), who did not fumble any of his 12 carries, will get the 1st team reps.
With all that said, Utah did move the ball very well outside of those turnovers. Specifically, at the end of the first half, Troy Williams (QB) drove the field after throwing the interception in the end-zone on the previous possession and hit Tim Patrick (WR) on a post-corner against cover-2 defense for the touchdown to regain the lead before halftime. This showed great resolve by Troy and the offense and proved that the offense could score if they don’t get in their own way. Another offensive possession that was promising was the the 11-minute, 19-play championship-looking drive in the 4th quarter that just wore down the BYU defensive front. The offensive line significantly improved this week and imposed their will throughout that drive, which was promising for what that unit can do going forward. I bet Utah’s offensive staff looks at those two drives as an example what this offense can do to be successful in the future once it cuts back on the turnovers.
Utah’s Defense Lives Up To Hype
The biggest takeaway I got from this game was that Utah’s defense is going to be really special this season. The Utes were -3 in the turnover margin (6 turnovers on offense and special teams) and Utah still won the game. The win percentage of being -3 in the turnover margin is around something around 7%. That speaks volumes to the resiliency of the Utah defense to consistently be put in bad field position, and to hold the BYU offense to just 13 points off of 6 turnovers.
The Utah defensive line was as dominate as I have ever seen, even with Kylie Fitts (DE) leaving the game early with a foot/ankle injury mid-game. The BYU offensive line was getting mauled by the bull rush of Lowell Lotulelei (DT) and company. The defense also held BYU’s Jamaal Williams (RB), who ran for 162 yards (5.6 YPC) against Arizona, to just 58 yards (4.8 YPC). The one area in which the defensive line struggled was BYU’s Taysom HIll (QB) scrambling out of the pocket. BYU picked up on the fact that Pita Taumoepenu (DE) would over play the rush and would leave the flat wide open for Taysom Hill to step up and scramble for big gains. Utah will have to correct that with a spy package going forward against QBs like Anu Solomon and Jake Browning later in the season.
The linebackers and secondary looked formidable as well. Specifically, the linebackers played beyond my expectation. Sunia Tauteoli (LB) had an outstanding game with two INTs including a pick-six on the first play of the game. BYU was also very apprehensive to throw the ball downfield with Brian Allen (DB) & Reggie Porter (DB) playing man-to- man coverage on the outside. In addition, BYU respected All-PAC 12 safety Marcus Williams presence deep, and only threw once over the middle, which was blown up by the future NFLer. The only real lapse in the defense was in the final drive of the game. The lapse was part from zone coverage, and part Pita Taumoepenu (DE) letting Taysom Hill (QB) break contain several times. But Utah’s defense came up huge once again with a game-winning stop on the 2-point conversion attempt from BYU’s Taysom Hill (QB). Overall, the Utah defense made big plays time after time when the offense or special teams shot themselves in the foot. This Utah defense may end up being the best to ever play for the University of Utah when it is all said and done.
Rivalry games are almost always unpredictable. Utah had dominated the turnover margin statistic for the previous five match-ups, and that was the statistic that both coaching staffs were clearly trying to win. Utah, thanks to their defense, is lucky to have pulled out the win against BYU with a -3 turnover margin. I would imagine practice this week will be hell with all of the ball security drills Kyle Whittingham will conjure up for the team.
In the bigger picture, Utah weathered adversity, handled the pressure of a tight rivalry game, and remains undefeated going into the last non-conference game of the season. If Utah can figure out the turnover issue, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the PAC 12 South.