The first play of the Holy War’s return to the regular season after a multi-year absence turned out to be indicative of the rest of the game.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill had his pass tipped by a receiver on the Cougars’ first snap, with the ball promptly plucked out the air by linebacker Sunia Tauteoli and returned 41 yards for a pick-six. The tone for the night set right off the bat, both teams seemed to go back-and-forth trying to out do each other in the turnover department.
Utah ended up surviving six giveaways on Saturday night in a wild game that had a little of everything at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Ultimately it resulted in a 20-19 Utes win that was their sixth straight (and perhaps most incredible) in the series from BYU.
Not to be outdone, the Cougars also threw two more interceptions to give the game a remarkable nine turnovers… before the end of the 3rd quarter. Hill finished the night 21-of-39 for 176 yards passing in his final meeting with the team’s in-state rival but couldn’t quite muster a second game-winning drive in as many weeks.
Utah quarterback Troy Williams also threw three interceptions in his first taste of the series but managed to come out on top in the end despite a shaky effort most of the game through the air. The offense pounded away at BYU’s defensive front to the tune of 169 yards on 42 carries but costly fumbles from multiple players hampered the team’s rhythm most of the night.
The wackiness of the game came to a crescendo in late in the 3rd quarter. Cougars safety Kai Nacua, who already had two interceptions on the night, was called for a controversial targeting penalty on a play in which he appeared to turn his shoulder on a hit that was eventually ruled incomplete. On the very next play, BYU picked Williams off and Nacua’s backup, Austin McChesney, was also called for targeting and ejected.
Both players will miss the first half of the team’s game against UCLA next week.
The entire sequence would have been the wacky highlight of the night had the Cougars not gone down in an equally wild ending. Utah kicked a short field goal that proved to be the deciding points late in the 4th quarter but Hill got the ball back wth 2:29 left on the clock. He eventually marched the Cougars down the field in a 13 play, 75 yard drive that would have tied the ball game up had new head coach Kalani Sitake opted to go for two and the win instead of gambling on overtime.
It was a decision he would probably want back as the stingy Utes defense swallowed up Hill on a quarterback draw that sealed the fate of their rivals to the south.
The final sequence was also emblematic of the latest interest (to neutrals, at least) chapter of the Holy War that continues to be one of the best rivalries in the West. Hopefully ball security is taken a little more seriously next year though.