Utah (12-0, 8-0 MWC) wrapped up their second perfect regular season in five years after handling rival BYU (10-2, 6-2) 48-24. The victory over the Cougars essentially assures the Utes an automatic berth in a BCS game sometime in January. The lone obstacle in Utah's way would be if somehow an undefeated Boise State overtakes the Utes in the human polls and makes up enough ground in the polls to overcome the large deficit in the computer rankings.
It was obvious from the early going that the Utes skill players were just too fast for BYU's defense and the outcome would be determined on the other side of the ball. Utah's offense ripped through the Cougars zone defense, piling up yards, first downs and points. In the first half, it appeared BYU's offense was up to the challenge of matching the Utes point for point in a shootout. That impression drastically changed midway though the third quarter.
Utah's defense dominated the second half, forcing turnovers on BYU's final five drives and allowing the offense to put the game away. BYU's efficient offense, which had converted nearly 60% of their third downs on the season, stalled when they needed to make plays to keep drives going. BYU was just 4 for 12 on third downs against Utah's fast, aggressive defense. Utah's effort and execution on both sides of the ball put the game away and put the Utes in the BCS.
Regardless of where the Utes end up, this team will have the chance to do something that has never been done at Utah, not even during the 2004 season: win 13 games in one season. Perfection has never been sweeter up on the Hill, with the 2008 Utes overcoming pre-season rankings, predictions, and several tight games along the way to becoming possibly the most beloved team in Utah football history.
Picked before the season started to finish a distant second to BYU and just ahead of TCU, Utah found themselves unranked and largely overshadowed by their conference brothers on the national scene. Taking the season game by game, week by week, Utah prevailed and found themselves in position to mark themselves as the premier non-BCS team and a name college football fans throughout the country will know and respect. All Utah has to do is heed the advice Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson gave as he handed over the conference trophy, "Remember you have one more bowl game left."
In addition to wrapping up the conference title, Utah quarterback Brian Johnson might have wrapped up the conference offensive Player of the Year award, as he directed Utah's offense to near perfection, completing an unbelievable 30 of 36 passes for 303 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Utes might sweep the conference awards, with Louie Sakoda a virtual lock to win the Special Teams Player of the Year while Paul Kruger and Derrick Shelby have outside shots of defensive and freshman player of the year respectively.
Bowl reps from the Fiesta, Sugar, and Orange Bowls were in attendance, as were reps for the Las Vegas Bowl. The Utes represented well on the field and in the stands in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, defeating Pittsburgh 35-7 in front of more than 65,000 Ute fans. Will the Utes travel as well for Utah's January 2008 destination? Johnson believes so. "Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix, it doesn't matter," Johnson said to the thousands of Utah fans gathered around him at midfield, "We'll be there!"
Utah: Brian Johnson, Paul Kruger. Johnson's outstanding day has already been mentioned, but his cool demeanor and leadership skills were on full display last night as well. Kruger made the play of the game in the third quarter, dropping into an unconventional zone-blitz, coming across the formation to intercept a pass that he returned to the BYU 4 yard line. Utah scored on the next play to go up 17 points and the game was over.
BYU: Harvey Unga. Unga capped a somewhat disappointing year by playing with the heart and tenacity he displayed a year ago. Unga ran for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 15 carries, running either around or through Utah defenders on every carry.