Utah raced out to a 35 point lead in the first quarter before staving off a BYU comeback attempt to win the Royal Purple Las Vegas bowl 35-28. The win gives the Utes their first ten win season since 2010 and caps Utah's best season since joining the Pac-12. Without further hesitation, let's get to the game grades.
The offense scored three early touchdowns off short fields set up by BYU turnovers, but otherwise the unit struggled to produce much of anything the rest of the day. The Utah offense attempted only 16 passes and completed 9 of them, with Travis Wilson throwing for 71 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in his final game as a Ute. Utah receivers struggled to get open against the BYU secondary with no one able to stretch the field vertically.
On the ground, Joe Williams carried the ball 25 times for 91 yards and had two touchdown runs, but averaged only 3.6 yards per carry. Wilson carried the ball 15 times for 23 yards, but 20 of those yards came on one play, his touchdown run in the first quarter. The offense has been a mess since Booker went down for the season with a knee injury, and Saturday proved no exception. The offense should get some credit however for scoring touchdowns on all three of the short fields gifted to them by the defense.
The defense was unstoppable in the first quarter, intercepting three passes, including two pick sixes, and forcing two fumbles. Senior Tevin Carter was on the receiving end of two of those first quarter interceptions, taking one back for a touchdown and coming just a yard short of doing the same with his second interception. Dominique Hatfield grabbed the other interception, which he returned for a touchdown.
The defensive line was active early in the game with Kylie Fitts and Lowell Lotuleilei forcing fumbles. The Utah front pressured Tanner Mangum early and often making him uncomfortable in the pocket, deflecting passes and forcing him to make some bad throws. Gionni Paul led the team in tackles with eight , and also had a fumble recovery in his final college game. BYU fell behind so quickly that the Cougars didn't attempt to run the ball much, but when they did, Utah mostly held them in check, limiting the team to 71 total rushing yards on 25 attempts.
In the second half the Utah pressure eased and Mangum begin to find a rythym taking advantage of a few busted coverages for big gains. Mangum ended up passing for over 300 yards despite completing less than 50% of his passes and finishing with just a 15.7 QBR.
Overall the defense played well, considering how much they were on the field. BYU was able to find a way to move the ball later in the game, but as has been the case all season for the Utes, the defense won the game.
Tom Hackett said during pregame festivities this week, that this was Utah's world and BYU was living in it. Hackett could have replaced "Utah" with just himself and he'd be right. The two time Ray Guy award winner put his skills on display Saturday, punting six times for 297 yards, pinning BYU inside their own 20 yard line four times, twice within their own 5 yard line. If that wasn't enough, Hackett added a 21 yard run on a fake punt, stealing momentum from the Cougars briefly. Hackett ended his career with another stellar performance flipping the field all afternoon for the Utes.
It would have been easy for Utah to come out flat Saturday after having been passed over by several higher tier bowl games and being pitted against BYU. The team did just the opposite, coming out firing on all cylinders enroute to a 35-0 lead. Give credit to the coaches for making sure their team was ready to play in what could have been disappointing circumstances.
That being said, allowing BYU to score 28 unanswered points with no sign of life from the offense also lies with the coaching staff. This was now the third game with no Devontae Booker, and came after an extended break. The coaching staff had plenty of time to add wrinkles to the offense, but by the looks of Saturday's performance, they did not.
After BYU was able to put some scoring drives together, little to no adjustments were made and it appeared Utah was just trying to hang on for dear life until the clock struck 0:00. Give credit to the staff for dialing up the fake punt, but it was not enough. Moving into next year, a major overhaul needs to be done on offense. New players do not necessarily mean more success. The offense is dysfunctional at best and has been for a while. After so many changes at the offensive coordinator position over the past decade, Utah would be wise to try and keep their offensive staff in place for continuity, but the staff needs to take a long look at changing the offensive philosophy going into next year.