The final score was in favor of the Utes, but that certainly did not tell the entirety of the story.
In the 97th meeting between Utah and BYU, it was a turnover-plagued battle (six for red, three for blue) that ultimately saw the Utes hold on for their sixth straight win.
With just :18 seconds left in the 4th quarter, Brigham Young got a timely rushing touchdown from Taysom Hill, bringing them within just one point of Utah.
Just moments earlier, I had leaned over to some other media members and pondered: “If you’re BYU and you score, do you go for two and the win?”
I was being facetious. Kalani Sitake, however, was dead serious. He and the Cougars called a timeout and after talking it over, sent the offensive unit back onto the field to try and finish the job in the south end zone of Rice-Eccles Stadium.
On the other sideline, Kyle Whittingham’s defensive coaching minds were expecting one thing: a Taysom Hill draw.
Low and behold, that’s exactly what was ordered up by Ty Detmer’s offense, and Utah linebacker Sunia Tauteoli and defensive end Hunter Dimick helped bring Hill down to the turf to cap off half-a-dozen straight for the crimson crew.
Tauteoli explained: “I saw Taysom [Hill] get flushed out and then Algernon Brown went one way and my thought was to run down the line. If I had an opportunity, I was going to make it. Our coaches put us in a formation where we came off the edges and gave him no time to throw the ball.”
As mentioned, Coach Whittingham was not surprised by the play call.
“It’s what we expected,” he said. “I talked with Coach Scalley and we loaded up the line of scrimmage and brought them all. The first guy missed and Hunter Dimick terminated it at the end.”
In the other locker room, Kalani Sitake said he was not second-guessing his decision.
“I told the guys, we score a touchdown, we are going for two so stay on the field. If you notice when they scored the touchdown, nobody ran off to the side. We planned on scoring and we did. We planned on going for two. Utah made a play and we didn’t. I love the ball being in Taysom’s hand. He had a couple of options and it just ended up the way that it did, but I think Utah just made a great play. I’d do it again.”
The waning moments of the game weren’t without a gutsy decision or two for the Utes, either. With 2:47 left in the game, Utah found itself on the north end of the field with 4th down and one yard to go. They initially tried to draw BYU’s defense offside, but took the delay of game penalty and got a 29-yard field goal from Andy Phillips to go up 20-13.
“That drive at the end with the field goal, that’s who we can be,” said Whittingham about the 19-play, 78-yard, 11:21 long march that included 41 rushing yards from third-string running back Zak Moss. “That’s what this offense can do. I really thought about going for it on that last fourth down, but we made the decision to kick the field goal and make them get a touchdown. We played the percentages because we wanted to make them go the length of the field and they did, to their credit.”
“Kalani had them ready and I would have done the exact same thing he did there at the end,” Whittingham said.
That’s probably what I’ll take away from this game the most. Yes, the waves of endless turnovers will stand out for generations when we talk about this edition of the rivalry. I mentioned to someone that the only winners of this game were the media. The fans, players, and coaches have to live in anguish with all those nasty, sloppy turnovers. The media, meanwhile, can talk for years about how both teams played a game of hot potato all night.
But in the end, the mentor bested the grasshopper, despite the student’s decisions aligning perfectly with the sensei’s own instincts.
I know…word salad, Austin.
But if that type of mind-duel’s what we can expect from the Whittingham vs Sitake chapters, then the football gods have been very gracious to us all.