The Holy War is one of the best games in college football. Featuring two generally good teams in Utah and BYU and fan bases that are sometimes crazy enough that they put Florida State Twitter to shame. Rivalry games are always unpredictable in college football, but this game had so many moments of insanity. It was fun and thrilling, and it was also stressful and frustrating. So is the nature of college football, and that’s why we love it.
The game ended 20-19 in favor of Utah, after BYU opted to go for two instead of kicking an extra point with less than 20 seconds left. The win extended Utah’s Holy War win streak to six games. That win is incredibly important to the Ute’s season, just as the loss is devastating to many Cougar fans. However, there were more winners and losers beyond just what the final score shows us. Let’s find out who they are. Since you have to bring people down before you can lift them up, let’s start with maybe one of the biggest losers of the night.
Loser: Confidence in Utah’s Offense
This is why we can’t say nice things about Utah. After a solid offensive showing in Week 1, there was a lot of optimism the Utes could build on that performance against BYU. Instead, the Utes didn’t just take a step back, they forgot several of the basic principles of offense, like hold onto the ball, or don’t throw into triple coverage. The Utes, as you are well aware of by now, turned the ball over six times. There were three interceptions thrown by Williams, a muffed punt and two fumbles. It got to the point where I was getting nervous every time Williams dropped back to pass or the ball was handed off to anyone. So basically every offensive play in the second half.
Joe Williams was equally disastrous. He only had 10 carries for 26 yards and was responsible for one of the fumbles, which was already the second of his season. Don’t be surprised if he has a dramatically reduced roll going forward. Troy McCormick has looked very effective and Zack Moss has been moved to the top of the depth chart to start this week of practice.
Outside of Moss and McCormick, there really weren’t any reasons to be excited about how Utah’s offense performed last night. You can bet that the coaching staff noticed that too. Every week, Utah Football’s Twitter account posts who the coaching staff picked for Offensive, Defensive, and Special Teams Player of the Week. This week, Reggie Porter was named Defensive Player of the Week and Andy Phillips won the award for Special Teams. There was no Offensive winner ever posted. Possibly just a mistake? Maybe. But it sure looks like the coaching staff is sending a message to their offense.
Winner: DEFENSE WINS HOLY WARS (Unless the Offense is Bad)
While the offense was an absolute dumpster fire for both teams this week, there is a way to be positive about that. Utah’s defense was just incredible against the Cougars. Despite four of the Utes turnovers resulting in BYU having the ball on the Utes side of the field, the defense somehow only allowed 13 points off of the six turnovers. Sure the defense gave up two big drives, one of which was almost the game winning drive, but only allowing two touchdowns when BYU had 14 possessions in the game is incredibly impressive. It’s stating the obvious, but because stating the obvious is all I’m good at, I’m going to say it anyway, Utah doesn’t win this game if the defense isn’t playing in top form.
Utah’s defense was amazing, but this is an equal opportunity Winners section, so let’s give BYU some props as well. Forcing six turnovers is a great showing by any defense. While turnovers aren’t necessarily a stat that proves a defense is very good, BYU’s defense is clearly going to be very formidable this season. They did all they could to win the game for the Cougars, the only problem is that even the best defenses need some help from the offense.
Loser: Las Vegas Bowl Apologists
Every Utah fan for the last 9 months has been hearing that the best team did not win the last time these two teams met in the Las Vegas bowl last year. Utah won the game after taking a 35-0 lead when BYU turned the ball over on their first five possessions of the game. BYU attempted to make a comeback and nearly did, scoring 28 unanswered to end the game with only a seven point loss. Since then, Cougar fans have been claiming things such as, “If there had been one more quarter BYU would have won.” Or, “We outplayed you in the last three quarters so we were the better team.”
Utah fans are secure in knowing that those arguments are ridiculous because points that are scored in the first quarter are just as important as the fourth quarter, and there has never been a fifth quarter in football so don’t complain that there wasn’t one then.
But now, after Utah turned the ball over six times and still managed to win the football game, I think we can stop trying to claim BYU was somehow the better football team. Utah basically made every mistake BYU did in the Las Vegas and added in another turnover, yet they managed to overcome them all. I think we can definitely say Utah was the better team in both games now, even though the final scores should have made that obvious in the first place.
Winner/Loser: Tanner Mangum
Man, do I feel bad for Tanner Mangum. The dude had a very solid season as a freshman for BYU after Taysom Hill got hurt last season. It seemed inevitable that Mangum would sit atop the quarterback throne going forward as Hill’s eligibility was going to expire. Instead, Hill was given another year of college eligibility and the starting quarterback job. It could be argued that other than Hill’s ability to run, Mangum’s talents as a quarterback exceed what Hill can do under center.
Against Utah in the aforementioned Las Vegas Bowl, Mangum did throw three interceptions, but he also had 300 yards and two touchdowns. Hill played a much worse game against Utah this time around, only putting up 176 yards and three interceptions while passing the ball. He did run for 87 yards and two touchdowns, but his inability to throw the ball downfield really killed the Cougars. They could only manufacture two quality drives the entire game. It’s not unlikely that Mangum, with his arm strength and accuracy, could have sustained a few more drives, especially given the quality of BYU’s field position the entire game.
Mangum is a Winner hear because he looks better and better compared to a struggling Hill, but if he still isn’t seeing the field and Hill continues to struggle, he can only be considered a Loser.
Winner: Travis Wilson
Travis Wilson was a decent thrower of footballs for Utah the last four years, but he has now turned into a world class thrower of shade. My goodness did he put Taysom Hill in the ground after the game on Saturday.
Hill unsuccessful against Utah in his career ... Not sorry bud— Travis Wilson (@TravisWilson_7) September 11, 2016
I apologize for stating a fact.— Travis Wilson (@TravisWilson_7) September 11, 2016
The second tweet feels sarcastic.
Wilson endured a lot of criticism as Utah’s quarterback, some of it was fair and some it was ridiculous. Either way, he never lost to BYU, and though his stats weren’t always pretty, the only thing people are going to remember in the long run is wins and losses. Wilson finished 3-0, Hill finished 0-2 as a starter and 0-4 overall. I guess we can make it 4-0 for Wilson after his Twitter performance Saturday night.
Loser: Taysom Hill
See last two entries above. Sorry man.
Winner: Missionary Work
With 18 seconds left, BYU scored a touchdown to make it a one point game. There was a large contingent of fans who were rooting for Kalani Sitake to go for the win by attempting a two point conversion. One such tweet popped up on my timeline from SB Nation’s Robert Sherman.
BYU, go for 2 and I will listen for 15 to 30 minutes to anybody who wants to tell me about the Book of Mormon— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) September 11, 2016
Missionary work is an important part of the LDS Church, with many of the players and coaches on both teams having served Mormon missions. I’m sure Sitake was well aware of opportunity and chose to go for two because he knew this was a great opportunity to share a spiritual message. I hope to someday be as good at sharing about the church as Sitake is.
And yes, the two point conversion failed and ultimately was the difference in the game, but you’ve got to take the positives with the negatives.
BYU went for it so this offer is good to one (1) Mormon who wants to tell me about the Book of Mormon, please sort it out yourselves— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) September 11, 2016
Sometimes there’s success even in failure.
After the game, Kyle Whittingham conducted in interview with FOX Reporter Shannon Spake. It was a standard end of game press conference, until Whit closed with an unexpected compliment.
“Nice leather pants.”
It seemed like a harmless enough thing to say, maybe even a little funny, but this is the first thing that comes up when you Google Kyle Whittingham now.
It was a comment that just made laugh and ask, “WHAT?” Apparently other people did not laugh as much about it.
Whittingham has gotten a lot of criticism on social media for saying that, and there were by my count, ten different news sources reporting on it. When asked about why he said that later, he said, “It wasn’t meant to offend. It was just you don’t see them very often.”
The lesson here is never try to be nice to anyone, and don’t, under any circumstances, give someone a compliment.
Winner: Everyone Who Hasn’t Seen This Yet
We have all lost now.