After Saturday's game, ESPN Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller wrote that Utah opened up some shock and awe on the Cougars.
For a rivalry that loves to name specific games (the Rice Bowl, Burton's Block, Doink Game), shock & awe works perfectly. It pretty much sums up exactly what Utah unleashed on BYU Saturday night. It was the most dominant stretch of football this rivalry has seen since BYU routed Utah 70-31 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in 1989.
In the 80s, Utah fans witnessed a lot of those games and many even happened in their own stadium. During the 1980 rivalry game, the Cougars overtook Rice Stadium and pulverized the Utes 56-6. That was really the beginning of the end for Utah head coach Wayne Howard, as next year, after a successful 8-2-1 season, he abruptly retired and left the state.
Howard had been quoted many times throughout his five years with the Utes on how much he hated the BYU Cougars. In his first season leading the program, LaVell Edwards reinserted starting quarterback Marc Wilson to break the NCAA record for passing yards - even with the Cougars handily ahead. After the game, Howard was famously quoted that beating BYU would now be his crusade.
The next year, the Utes upended BYU 23-22 in Salt Lake City, earning their first victory over an Edwards coached team. They wouldn't win again until 1988.
Wayne Howard was one of the first people I thought of shortly after Utah's 54-10 victory over the Cougars Saturday night. Though his time was well before mine, I've always had a fascination with the coaches who made their short stay in Salt Lake City throughout the 1970s and 80s.
Howard is the most perplexing. Like I said, he left the program at its highest level in 20 years. They were almost always competitive in WAC play and had produced only one losing season while he was here, his first.
But Howard left and the program could never really regain its footing until Ron McBride found his way back to Salt Lake City. McBride, of course, was Utah's offensive coordinator under Howard for all five of his seasons.
Howard was only 1-4 against the Cougars and witnessed some ugly defeats, including consecutive years where BYU dropped 56 points on the Utes.
They were the times that tried men's souls. If you followed Utah football back then, it was never easy, especially when it came to state bragging rights. Even with eight win seasons and second place WAC finishes, it was painfully obvious how big the gap was between the Utes' football program and that of their rival to the south.
It was as wide as the Grand Canyon.
Howard saw that. He could never get over all the blue at Rice Stadium when the Cougars rolled into town. The fans who had been there a week earlier against Wyoming were now cheering for BYU.
That partly led to his resignation. It couldn't be easy investing all you had and realizing that half your fan base were really BYU fans who couldn't get tickets to games down in Provo.
In the 80s, Utah football was the consolation prize for residents in the Salt Lake Valley who just wanted to take in a few hours of football but could never attend a game at Cougar Stadium.
The thing is, of any coach who lined up against LaVell Edwards, outside Ron McBride, Howard was the one who really sparked the rivalry. He brought emotion to it when, for a long stretch, it was nothing more than just another game on BYU's schedule. Certainly it still was, to a lesser extent, because of how awful Utah was in comparison, but from our side, the side that often had been ignored and overshadowed throughout those dominant BYU teams, it had to have given fans something more.
He changed the rivalry. He made it more competitive.
At least in the stands, even if on the scoreboard it was nothing more than another Cougar rout.
Since leaving Utah, Howard has openly said he's still a huge fan of the program and follows them at every chance he gets. Back in 2009, Brad Rock interviewed Howard and he spoke about how much he enjoyed the Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama and he still watches every rivalry game.
I hope he was watching Saturday night.
I hope any fan who sat through the agony of their rival trouncing their program they so love in their stadium was watching Saturday night.
They certainly deserved every second of that humiliation in Provo.
Shock & Awe is right.
Highlights from Saturday's game can be viewed here.