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September 18, 2011

Beatdown in Provo

What a difference a week makes. In sharp contrast to last Saturday's disappointing finish at USC, the Utes notched their first big road win in some time, crushing BYU 54-10.

The Holy War, typically a close game often coming down to the last play, was a blowout in a much-needed confidence booster for Jordan Wynn and the Utah offense. Utah fans savored the win, staying in the BYU stands long after the game ended, rocking and celebrating with the team and coaches in the North end zone. Head coach Kyle Whittingham found his way to the Utah crowd, slapping hands with fans, while thanking them and praising them for their raucous support all game long.

Whittingham indicated post-game that the Utes had emphasized in this week's preparations that this year's Holy War didn't need to be close, likely in an attempt to set or change a mind-set within his team. Still, no one in the Ute locker room would have predicted a 44 point blowout on the road.

"One of our points of emphasis this week was the this doesn't always have to be close," explained Whittingham. "I guess our guys took it to heart.

Jordan Wynn echoed the sentiment.

"Especially in a rivalry game, you don't go into it saying we're going to win by 50," Wynn said. "It's, 'let's go and play all four quarters.' Especially in [the Utah-BYU rivalry]. It's eye-opening, and it shows what this team is capable of doing."

The odd, non-rhythmic first half started out a comedy of errors, with BYU quarterback Jake Heaps fumbling the ball backwards and into the end zone for a Utah touchdown in the first of three Cougar turnovers in the opening quarter.

Despite the advantages, Norm Chow's offense failed to capitalize and did not cash in turnovers for points, and the game looked initially like the ugly, grinding, defensive battle many thought it would be.

Where BYU fumbled, literally and figuratively through the first quarter, the Utes returned the favor in kind in the second, with sloppy play and allowing big plays on both offense and defense. The second quarter saw Utah's Devonte Christopher cough up the ball in attempting more yards after the catch and Jordan Wynn threw his first interception of the season.

As the BYU offense, led by Heaps began to move the ball in chunks, the Utes once again were bailed out by timely take-aways in the first quarter just as they had late in last week's loss to USC.

In the second, however, the Utes stopped getting the breaks and made mistakes, causing the tide to swing in the home team's favor. Utah's secondary began allowing huge pass plays, as the Utah offense could not make any headway in the rushing game, which soon resulted in a 10-7 BYU advantage midway through the second quarter.

Senior offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom went down with a knee injury late in the first quarter, likely accounting for some of the lack of run game for the Utes. Bergstrom never returned and the severity of his injury will be further evaluated as the Utes had no comment immediately following the game.

Taking Bergstrom's place was sophomore offensive lineman Percy Taumoelau out of Salt Lake City, who had secured a spot on the pre-season depth chart, and all but disappeared following an injury that put him out of fall camp for over two weeks. From Wynn to Whittingham to senior offensive lineman John Cullen, the Utes had nothing but praise for Taumoelau's performance Saturday against the talented BYU defensive front seven.

"I'm very proud of Percy Taumoelau for stepping in when Bergstrom went down in the first quarter," Whittingham said almost immediately in his post-game statement made prior to taking questions from media.

A scary moment saw oft-injured Jordan Wynn on the ground, holding his shoulder. Wynn would later return, but not before quarterback-turned-linebacker Griff Robles took a direct snap for a two yard game and backup Jon Hays finished off a four play series for the Utes, which resulted in a turnover on downs.

BYU would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive, capped off by two 30+ yard completions by Heaps, torching the Ute secondary. Jordan Wynn returned to the field and benefitted from good play by from receivers Dres Anderson, Devonte Christopher and a 17 yard double reverse by Reggie Dunn.

Following two straight incompletions, the Utes were bailed out by a big pass interference call against BYU. With momentum and the offense hovering just outside the red zone, Wynn threw an interception which was tipped at the line of scrimmage before a Cougar defender hauled it in.

Again, the home crowd got rolling as their team looked to capitalize on the Utes' second major mistake but Kalani Sitake's defense held tough, and Wynn redeemed himself with by answering with a TD drive that went 6 plays, 63 yards and took up 2:11 to go up 14-10 just before the half.

Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn pointed to that drive just before the half as the one that boosted his confidence and got the Utah offense momentum that never really dissipated.

"That drive right before the half just kind of jump-started everything. I don't know what it was about that drive that enabled us to make that drive," Wynn theorized. "All I know is that the line was protecting, guys were getting open and making plays. When good stuff like that happens, it's only a matter of time."

The Utes, having won the opening toss, deferred and subsequently opened the second half with the ball, marching down the field with a confident Wynn. Settling for a field goal rather than a touchdown, the Utes increased their lead to 14. The Utes had a shorter field thanks to a punt return by true freshman Charles Henderson who returned the ball 29 yards to the BYU 40 yard line, where the Utes started their field-goal scoring drive.

Following a Utah kickoff redshirt freshman Chandler Johnson sped down the field to make a huge special teams play, snagging the ball from a BYU return man, allowing Mo Lee to recover and retain possession for the Utes at the 3 yard line. One play later, John White would pound the ball in for a 30-10 lead, after a missed PAT attempt by Coleman Petersen, who missed a field goal attempt in the first quarter.

Something Norm Chow's offense hoped to do this season, but hadn't seen to this point, was the Ute offensive line asserting itself which resulted running back John White racked up 165 yards in the second half after totaling just nine yards in the first half.

After experiencing his very first rivalry game, White was fired up about his performance, and rightly so, becoming the first Ute to score three touchdowns in a single game since Darrell Mack versus Air Force in 2008. More so than his individual performance, however, White was enthused by the electric game atmosphere at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

"I want to play another one of these, I'm down. This is not what I expected it to be," White expressed. "I've been rivalry games from here and there and in high school, but it's never been like this before."

Quarterback Jordan Wynn, who passed for 239 yards on 16-30 passing, also appreciated his offensive line's efforts as well, doling out praise as soon as was possible at the start of his portion of the press conference.

"Hats off to the offensive line. I had protection and sat back in a rocking chair all night," Wynn acknowledged. "I was just back there bouncing around because I had so much time."

Firing on almost all cylinders with the exception of Coleman Petersen and the place-kicking game, Utah's speed and individual effort on special teams also started to take its toll on a disheartened BYU team and home crowd of 63,742 as the night wore on.

"Defense and special teams were giving us short fields and scoring points. Going back to that first half, we haven't scored yet, and we have a lead," Wynn explained. "They did a good job all night, then the offense got going and we exploded."

Prior to Saturday's game, linebacker Trevor Reilly had seen little game time, but made a huge impact in applying continual pressure to BYU's Jake Heaps, sacking him twice and forcing two fumbles.

Late in the third quarter, Reilly's presence resulted in points, as he knocked the ball out of the struggling quarterback's hands and recovered the fumble for the Cougar's fifth turnover of the night.

"I just have to thank the coaches for putting me in the right situations to make plays," said a humble Reilly. "I'm sure anyone in my situation would have made those plays. [The coaches] dialed up a good defense this week."

In post-game comments head coach Kyle Whittingham also went out of his way to acknowledge the work of his assistant coaches.

"By the way, I can not give enough credit to the assistant coaches. Their games plans were phenomenal," Whittingham gushed. "It always comes down to players and the implementation of the game plan, but both coordinators and both staffs, offensive and defensive sides of the ball did a great job of preparing for this game."

With the seven BYU turnoversKalani Sitake's defense more than doubled the number of takeaways on the season, coming into Provo with five on the season, as the Ute defensive line finally applied pressure and lived up to some of it's pre-season hype.

Every Utah player was surprised to learn the final number of turnovers, but Wynn gave the most colorful answer and analysis of the defense's impressive number of takeaways.

"Seven?! Wow," Wynn exclaimed. "That's like a video game!"

Defensive end Derrick Shelby had a more grounded explanation of the Utes' turnover margin.

"If everybody runs to the ball, good things happen," Shelby explained simply. "That's what our coaches preach, and the fumbles and turnovers are a product of that."

Along with Shelby, James Aiono and Star Lotulelei all put together huge games on the same night for the first time all season, holding BYU to just 22 yards rushing on the night.

"This is why you play football, for nights like this," exclaimed Utah defensive end Derrick Shelby. "We've got big guys up front. We know what we have to do so tonight, we did our job."

Meanwhile, the Ute secondary, aside from missed tackles, tightened up in the second half and shut down the Cougar passing attack, and the Utah linebackers had a solid all-around game, mostly effective in both pass coverage and the run game. The Ute defense, despite giving up some yardage, pitched a shut out in the second half and began to show it's dominance in all phases of the game.

Utah defensive players, as well as Whittingham would repeat like a broken record that the Cougars' falling into the three-step drop was predictable and expected as they abandoned the run, citing the fact as a major factor in the BYU ineptitude in the second half.

"They didn't really do anything different from what we saw on film all week. They kind of abandoned the run and went to the three-step drop," said Shelby.

The Ute coaching staff will utilize the bye week to hit the recruiting trail hard as the team looks to use the week to get healthy, and capitalize on the full two weeks to prepare for it's first ever home Pac-12 game, when the Washington Huskies visit Rice-Eccles Stadium on October 1.


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