Saturday night will prove to be one of those 'you had to be there' moments. It was a remarkable set of circumstances in what has turned out to be a pretty remarkable rivalry series with the BYU Cougars. If this was how the rivalry was going to end, if this was the final curtain call, boy what a way to go out. Of course, we know that these two teams will meet again ... next year and beyond 2016, but Saturday was one for the ages.
No, it wasn't a flawless game and neither team looked particularly good for long stretches, but that seems par the course for these two teams when they play. This is a series that generally seems to dissolve into a blue-collar slug fest that might not blow you away in pure ability, but keeps you enthralled for total grit and determination.
Give it to BYU for fighting back. Last year, the team rolled over after a few early punches and that appeared to be the case this go around when the Utes jumped out to an improbable 24-7 lead. Yet they dug in, played tough and made it a game when things could have gone south quickly. I am not happy the Utes blew a 17-point lead and nearly saw the game push into overtime, but when you're underdogs in your own house, without your starting quarterback, starting running back and two defensive stars, all the while playing with a weakened offensive line, I guess even getting that far up on the scoreboard is an accomplishment.
After all, this is a game with few blowouts and I think Saturday night proved why that's the case.
What a game, though! I don't know if I've had that much fun at a Utah football game since the 2008 season ended. The tailgating was awesome, the crowd was lively, the game itself was great and I was buzzing enough, from both the alcohol and atmosphere, to truly enjoy the moment ... I mean, this is what college football is all about.
I wasn't too sure about the 8:00 start because, frankly, I hate the waiting. But the tailgating was so fun, so packed and so beautiful, that I actually, for a bit, found myself wishing we had more time to enjoy all the festivities. It didn't hurt that I was drinking a bit more than I expected and wanted to ride that out, but I was having such a good time, and so uncertain of the actual game, that I was unsure if I even wanted 8:00 to come.
Yes, I picked Utah to win by three (not 24-21, though - 17-14) and still believed in 'em as much as I ever could after the Utah State debacle, but outside the true believers, the partisans who are always optimistic no matter what (in which I am not), I'm guessing not many people entered that stadium absolutely confident in a victory. The more I drank, though, the more confident I became, so, go figure.
Which meant, by the time we all headed to the stadium, I felt good - not nervous, not sick, not anxious ... but good. I was happy. I was content. It was kind of a nirvana state. So, that's how I reached nirvana ... I drank and became confident because of it.
But that kind of went out the window when I got into the stadium and realized John White IV, after all the talk of him being 100% and laughing at those who felt he wouldn't play, was not going to, you know, play. I'll tell you, I kind of clammed up at that thought. How was this so? How could we win? Better yet, how the hell did we win?
Jon Hays, though, impressed the hell out of me. He stepped up and delivered some great passes and was generally perfect in his game management. This was not the Hays that struggled through huge stretches last season and this happened, believe it or not, against one of the better defenses Utah will face this season. If Hays can keep this play up, and John White can get back to his old self and the offensive line actually continues to improve, boy do the Utes have a chance to turn things around.
Still, while there are glaring weaknesses on this team, specifically on the offensive end and with special teams, their play all around was good enough against a BYU team that, after last year's beat down, was supposed to come into this game fired up and ready to go. They did neither until the final minutes and because of that, because the Utes stepped up and hit them hard and kept cool for most the game (except for the miscue on the punt and the 4th and a billion ... who else had a flashback to 2007?), Utah has now won 8 of the last 11. That is dominance. I don't care if the scores are close ... the only thing that matters is the won/loss record and there, since 2002, it's been almost all Utah.
If BYU was a tree and Utah a dog, the Utes surely marked their territory, if you get what I'm sayin'.
So, while not the prettiest Holy War, and certainly one Utah almost blew (three times), it might be the one of the most enjoyable solely because of how it ended. And yes, we had to get to the ending.
I am not going to rail on the fans. I'm just not. It's hard to ask 45,000 fans to keep their emotions and passions in check at a moment like that. Yes, like many of you, I did not storm the field on the first, or second play - but I'm not going to pass judgment on those who did. That's what I love about our fans ... they're passionate and emotional and crazy. When the clock hits double-zero, you should expect the game to be over. When the field goal is blocked, and no fan interferes with the play, you should expect your team has won.
In the end, when it's all said and done, our fans were the loudest I think I've ever heard 'em. I thought TCU four years ago was rockin', but this game was just as amazing. I don't know where that energy came from, especially after last Friday, but damn if that stadium didn't cause the Wasatch Fault to slip a bit.
Credit to the fans, the MUSS, the north end zone ... and every other fan for showing up. It was truly a magical night with a crowd that was frenzied, into it and, for the most part, fairly decent ... considering the opponent.
I hope we can bring that same intensity for the USC game and the remainder of the season. If we do, it's going to be hard for any team to beat the Utes in Rice-Eccles Stadium this year.
As Hot Rod was so fond of saying, and I think this is appropriate even if the wrong sport and team, "you gotta love it, baby."
And I did. I loved every second of it. Now, let's use this win as a springboard and go beat Arizona State!