Words are hard to come by after a game like that.
One reason: losing to Utah sucks. Not necessarily because of the rivalry, at least for me personally, but simply because it keeps happening.
Another: I'm not sure what happened. The game was simply weird. BYU looked like a clown show for three quarters, then almost took it to overtime because of a blown coverage that brought back memories of Hall-to-Collie 4th & 18 ... and then because Utah's fans wanted to rush the field for ... almost coughing up a 24-7 lead?
It was all so ... weird. And awesome. And sad.
But I'll try to put words to some of my thoughts as we lament the loss, pick out the good, and think about the future.
It's the only phrase I feel accurately describes the weirdness of this game.
1st quarter: BYU got emotionally overwhelmed in the first quarter, and a bad snap almost spelled a safety, but a Utah facemask saved the Cougars. BYU managed to keep it to a 7-0 game.
2nd quarter: With a minute left in the half, the offense started a drive at its own 6 after a punt. Two false starts and a poorly-called-and-executed outside run later, BYU was snapping at its own 1-yard line. Then the offense burned two timeouts on consecutive "plays" to avoid a delay of game. Then Doman called a deep pass from the endzone with 55 seconds left, risking a safety, a holding penalty (still safety), a bad shotgun snap (coming later!), and many other bad things. BYU still got to the locker room with the game tied 7-7.
3rd quarter: This is where it got bad. Riley Nelson throws an interception at midfield on an absolutely terrible decision. After looking left all play, he turns to the right and throws without looking. Yikes. Utah gets a field goal out of it. BYU's defense still playing awesome.
Based on momentum and the glazed, glassy look of Riley Nelson's eyes, it felt like it would start slipping away. Still, BYU drove from its own 30 to Utah's 20. Sure, Nelson had another near-pick, and fumbled a keeper that was miraculously recovered by Michael Alisa. But there they were, at Utah's 20. Then, another awful snap, executed before Nelson was ready for it. It rolled all the way to midfield, where Alisa botched the recovery, and Utah's Mo Lee scooped it and scored. 17-7.
BYU's next drive started on its own 17 due to a personal foul on Uani Unga. Two false starts and a holding penalty moved BYU back to its 4-yard line. Utah returned the punt to BYU's 39, and Jon Hays hit Dres Anderson for a touchdown on the next play. 24-7.
But remarkably, it wasn't over. That's the strangest part of how BYU played. It was a comedy of errors just like last year, but BYU put it together enough to make it a game at the end.
4th quarter: Utah can't hold onto its lead despite BYU's lack of timeouts. The Utes fail to get a punt away, BYU uses the short field for a score. Then the rushing the field bit -- first of all, I really don't understand why fans are rushing the field for giving up a 24-7 lead and then barely hanging on. But I'll give Utah fans the first one. It legitimately seemed like the game was over on the incomplete pass. Refs add one second back. Utah blocks a field goal, opts not to cover it, and lets BYU pick it up and start running. Meanwhile, Utah's entire sideline of coaches and players (not just the fans) is storming the field as J.D. Falslev is trying to create a miracle. Top that off with a field goal hitting the post and .....
Mayhem. Weird. Clown Show.
The five million almost-turnovers for BYU, the awful actual turnovers, the gaffes, the multiple field-rushings. What a strange game.
Alright, I'll get to some hopefully-better analysis here, and then explain why this loss doesn't really eat me up too much.
Picking out the good for BYU is easy: the defense. It's still phenomenal. Bronco Mendenhall deserves credit for this. (And all the fans who were tweeting in seriousness about his job security: ask New Mexico and Maryland what happens when you fire a guy who seems to do better than he probably should, but never seems to be "great" enough. Give me a break.)
The players, of course, deserve credit for this too. After over-pursuing for a drive and giving up a touchdown early, they legitimately gave up three points on their own accord the rest of the game. Utah had 247 yards of offense. I thought the defense did exactly what it should with a team like Utah's, given its injuries. They got after Hays, hit hard, and did their job. Van Noy is his usual awesome self, Spencer Hadley plays well, Jordan Johnson made some fantastically athletic plays. I love this defense.
Van Noy, who had 5 solo tackles, continues to amaze. He makes so many great individual plays, including this one below. This 3rd & 3 for Utah was the game for BYU. A first down means the game is over. Van Noy gets off the tight end's block and shoots into the backfield for the tackle. VIDEO HERE.
The special teams -- field goal kickers excluded -- also did great. Both the punt and kick return teams are solid. It's bizarro-BYU in that regard. The Cougars have always had great kickers and suspect punting and kick coverage, and a subpar return game. Now it's the opposite.
You also have to find a ton of good in Jamaal Williams. The 17-year-old freshman running back is solid. He is quick but can get yards after contact. And I don't fear a turnover when he has the ball. I have complete trust in Jamaal Williams, and apparently, so do the coaches. After playing in only garbage time in the first two weeks, he was in for the entire game tonight. And he's only going to get better.
It's hard to go over the bad, but there were some glaringly-bad things going on tonight. First: the offensive line. I won't hold getting blown up by Star Lotulelei a few times against them. But consecutive false starts on three different occasions is unacceptable. The inability to at least occasionally create holes on the interior for running backs is brutal. Most of Alisa's yards came around the edge, and Williams' toughness was a factor.
Riley Nelson, also bad. What makes him good when he's good is what makes him bad when he's bad. Tonight was excruciating to watch. All of the fumbles recovered by BYU (five fumbles, only one lost), close-call "is it a fumble or incomplete pass" plays, and near-interceptions (oh, and the actual interception) are inexcusable. At some point, Nelson needs to realize his limitations and start taking care of the ball.
Ross Apo -- zero receptions. I can only remember him being targeted once, which happened on the 3rd down from their own endzone to close the first half. That's it. Falslev had just one catch as well. As athletic as Apo is, there isn't a way to get him the ball? Can't throw him a screen pass? Get him a quick slant? Is his only use for DA BOMB? And as reliable as Falslev is, he needs touches, too.
And a long, long-time staple of the BYU offense has been throwing the ball to running backs. Tonight? Two running back receptions, both to Alisa. No passes to Williams or Foote or Pritchard and just two to Alisa. Instead, BYU opted for continuous use of an ineffective one-back option. Tonight, it seemed like every pass play was a medium-to-deep post, or a deep crossing route, or something. It was a frustrating offensive display all around, with a few bright spots. (I do have to give credit to Cody Hoffman. 118 yards on 8 catches. He's always producing.)
Now, the part where I get half of you calling me "not a real fan." This loss doesn't tear me up too much right now. This may change later in the season, but right now ... BYU played poorly, Utah made less mistakes and generally kept their composure, and BYU got beat. Not a ton of missed chances, and a bit of luck had the Cougars still in it at the end.
As for the end, it reminded me of a Utah Jazz playoff game I attended in 2008. The Jazz were down 3-2 to the Lakers in the second round and game six was in Utah. The Jazz got boatraced in the first half. Kobe was on, the Lakers scored 62 points in the first half, and even Vladimir Radmanovic was raining down threes on the Jazz. Utah was down 20 at halftime. After the third quarter, it seemed like the Jazz had made some runs, but they were still down 16.
Then the fourth quarter happened. With nine minutes left, the Jazz were still down 19. I had already coped with the fact that the season was over. Then ... the tide turned. Down the stretch, the Jazz hit three pointers on five straight possessions, including two improbable makes by Andrei Kirilenko, enough to make it a two-point game. The Jazz still lost, but man, was that a fun ride. It was like free basketball.
So by the time BYU had made a game of it again in Salt Lake, I had already coped with defeat. Everything after that was pure entertainment. Bizarre, twisted, carnival entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless. I don't think BYU should have been in position to win, given the horrific showing by the offense, so the fact they were in that position was fun to watch. It's not as if BYU coughed up a win, or was a lock and totally blew it. They just got outplayed in key moments against a team fairly equal to themselves and couldn't dig out of it -- and it's not like we didn't know field goal kicking was going to be a problem (because it already was a problem). This wasn't a Matt Payne miss at Boise in 2004.
Perhaps that's just my flavor of fanhood, who knows. But this loss won't really hold me hostage -- especially because BYU plays again on Thursday. If BYU can pick up the pieces and win on such a short turnaround, especially given where the game will be played (Boise), I'll be impressed. Sure, it's tiring to lose to Utah, but nothing I get sad or mad about changes that mark in the L column.
So thanks for the awfully-weird memory, rivalry. Let's go beat Boise.