No. 22 Utah turned five consecutive BYU turnovers into touchdowns en route to a 35-0 first quarter lead and then held on for dear life, securing a 35-28 win in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
The turnover avalanche came early for BYU (9-4) after quarterback Tanner Mangum fumbled on the third play from scrimmage and Utah (10-3) cashed in with a six-play, 25-yard drive. Mangum’s next pass was intercepted by Tevin Carter and returned 28 yards for a touchdown. The Cougars’ third drive ended in another Mangum pick, this one again to Carter, who returned it 33 yards to the BYU 1. Joe Williams punched in Utah’s third touchdown one play later.
Mangum tossed his third pick on BYU’s next drive, this time to Dominique Hatfield, who raced 46 yards for another pick six. The deluge became complete when Squally Canada fumbled on the second snap of BYU’s next possession, and Travis Wilson cashed in five plays later with a 20-yard scoring dash.
All told, Utah held a 35-0 lead with 4:38 remaining in the first quarter while needing only 65 yards of offense.
The teams settled from there, trading punts on seven consecutive possessions after a missed BYU field goal, until the Cougars marched 97 yards in 13 plays to dent the scoreboard with a three-yard toss from Mangum to Remington Peck with 36 seconds left in the first half.
BYU forced a Utah punt to open the second half, then moved 72 yards in 12 plays to pull within 35-14 on a 10-yard Francis Bernard run at the 10:02 mark of the third quarter.
Mangum found Nick Kurtz for a five-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal with 10:33 left in the fourth quarter, then pulled his Cougars to within 35-28 on a four-yard run with 3:23 left.
Utah’s offense, with no points since that first quarter deluge, ran out the final 203 seconds, securing a win that, kiss-your-sister as it may have felt after that 35-0 lead, is a win nonetheless.
BYU out-gained the Utes 387-197 on the day while holding a 22-13 first downs edge. Mangum finished the day completing 25-of-56 passes for 315 yards with two touchdowns (plus one rushing) and three interceptions (plus one fumble). Wilson hit 9-of-16 throws for 71 yards while adding 15 rushes for 23 yards and a score. Utah held a 126-71 advantage on the ground.
In the teams’ first meeting since 2013, Utah’s win extended its Holy War lead to 58-34-4 in a series dating back to 1896 (today’s game was the first outside of Provo or Salt Lake City). The Utes have now won five straight meetings and 10 of the last 13.
With its current coaching staff out the door for Virginia as soon as the final gun sounded and its new head coach all but named before toe met leather, it appeared BYU’s focus these past two weeks was on anything but the opponent lining up across the line of scrimmage. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall made coaching in the Vegas Bowl a condition of his accepting the job at Virginia, but the task of managing two jobs on opposite sides of the country appeared to affect his team’s preparation for Saturday’s game. Oregon State defensive coordinator and former Cougars fullback Kalani Sitake has been all but named BYU’s next head coach.
The win gives Kyle Whittingham his fourth 10-win season in 11 tries at Utah and, after an 18-19 start in the program’s first three Pac-12 seasons, pushes his Utes to 19-7 with two straight top-25 finishes over the past two seasons. And the cherry on top of a successful season? He denies Mendenhall his 100th victory at BYU while ending their personal 11-Year War with a 7-3 advantage.