Awful start dooms BYU in Las Vegas Bowl loss to rival Utes

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LAS VEGAS — BYU shot itself in the foot, reloaded, shot itself again, and then tried to come back from a 35-0 deficit midway through the first quarter en route to a 35-28 loss to No. 22 Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Saturday afternoon.

The Cougars (9-4) gave up 35-unanswered points as the Utes (10-3) stretched their Vegas Bowl-record scoring spree to 59-0 dating back to last year, thanks in large part to three interceptions by quarterback Tanner Mangum that included a pair of pick-sixes.

After the nightmare start in Bronco Mendenhall's final game at BYU, the Cougars rolled off three-straight touchdowns to pull within two scores with five minutes left in the game before falling for the fifth-straight time to the rival Utes.

Here are three quick thoughts on the Cougars' final loss of the Mendenhall era.

Start slow, go hard

BYU's attempts at a fast start got off to a slow start, when Tanner Mangum fumbled in the red zone on the third play of the game and Joe Williams scored six plays later to give Utah a 7-0 lead with 10:59 left in the first quarter.

Tevin Carter collected a tipped pass from Mangum on the next series and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown, then added his second interception to set up another touchdown for Utah's 21st unanswered point.

BYU didn't get on the board until Mangum found Remington Peck with 36 seconds left in the first half, ending Utah's 35-0 run to start the game and go into the halftime down 35-7.

But BYU took a 35-21 advantage into the final 10 minutes of the game after Nick Kurtz hauled in a wide-open curl route from Mangum to finish off a run of 21-unanswered points and make things interesting.

"I'm not sure I've ever been more proud of my team," Mendenhall said after the game. "They stayed together and unified and battled back and made it a great football game.

"Our team tried really, really hard all the way to the very end."

BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum (12) is sacked by Utah defensive end Hunter Dimick (49) during NCAA football at the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 19, 2015. (Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News)
BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum (12) is sacked by Utah defensive end Hunter Dimick (49) during NCAA football at the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 19, 2015. (Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News)

BYU outscored Utah 28-0 in the final three quarters, including Mangum's 4-yard TD dive with just over three minutes on the clock to make the final result a one-score game. But with the huge deficit to start, it wasn't enough.

Mangum, Bernard show BYU has a bright future

After Washington State transfer Squally Canada was ruled eligible by compliance for the final game of the season, it was Bernard who made the big plays in BYU's second-half run. The youngster finished with a team-high 58 yards on seven carries, including a 29-yard scamper on the longest play from scrimmage of the game and a 10-yard TD run to ignite the offense in the second half.

Mangum completed 25-of-56 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions, and also ran the ball 11 times with his TD run. After his awful start, the freshman quarterback rallied for a strong effort through the final three quarters — and showed that, despite the loss and five-year setback to Utah, the Cougars have a lot of talent coming back next year under reported first-year head coach Kalani Sitake.

"Tanner is an optimist," Mendenhall said. "That's a great quality to have at quarterback. He thinks he can make any throw, and who are we to tell him any different? And even after 35-0, we weren't going to score points just by running it. Our M.O. has been dropping back and throwing it, and having our receivers go up and make catches and that kind of played out."

Utah's defense, punter backed up smack talk

In a week when Utah defensive tackle Seni Fauonuku and punter Tom Hackett had the trash-talking highlights before the latest rendition of the Holy War, it was defense and special teams that made all the big plays for the Utes.

Tevin Carter had two first-half interceptions, one for a touchdown and one returned to the 1-yard line to set up another score, to pace Utah to a 35-0 lead in the first quarter.

"To Utah's credit, the defensive front — they were on him very fast and harassed him maybe more than he's used to," Mendenhall said of the pressure Mangum faced. "Nobody was down on him; we were frustrated, but our guys believed in Tanner."

Hackett posted the instant jumpstarting play for Utah's offense of the third quarter, taking a fake punt and running off tackle 21 yards for a fourth-down conversion. His run instantly made him Utah's No. 3 rusher to that point, accounting for nearly one-quarter of their total yards of offense.

The two-time Ray Guy Award winner also punted six times for 297 yards, averaging 49.5 yards per punt and downing four kicks inside the 20 and two inside the 5-yard line.

BYU's defense held the Utes' offense in check, statistically. Utah compiled a season-low 77 yards in the first half and finished with just 197 yards, including 71 through the air. But the win is all that will matter to Kyle Whittingham and the Utah coaching staff.


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