Defense can't save final grade in BYU's loss to No. 22 Utah


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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 on Saturday evening.

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 part to three interceptions by quarterback Tanner Mangum that include a pair of pick sixes.

After the nightmare start, 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's how the Cougars graded out in the final game under head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

Offense: D-

Tanner Mangum fumbled the ball on the third play of the game in the red zone, after Algie Brown was tackled for a loss and the freshman quarterback missed tight end Remington Peck on his first pass attempt. Utah scored six plays later that included a fourth-down conversion and five rushes from Joe Williams.

Mangum's next series went even worse, when Tevin Carter returned an interception 28 yards for the score to go up 14-0 with 10:42 remaining in the opening quarter. Tejan Koroma was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the next series, and BYU finished that drive with Carter's second pick returned 33 yards inside the 1-yard line that led to Utah's 21-0 lead with 9:01 to play.

Dominique Hatfield added a 46-yard interception for a touchdown with 7:29 left in the first quarter to put the Utes up 28-0 with the offense barely taking the field. Mangums' three interceptions set a Las Vegas Bowl record for most picks thrown in a game. Mangum, the freshman quarterback of the year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, completed just 4-of-15 passes for 41 yards for BYU in the opening quarter.

Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News
Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News

Washington State transfer Squally Canada made his debut for BYU in Las Vegas — but the first carry of his career was fumbled and set up Utah's fifth-straight touchdown on Travis Wilson's 20-yard TD gallop with 4:38 left in the first quarter.

After Mangum found tight end Remington Peck for the Cougars' first score in the final minute of the first half, the BYU offense scored consecutive scores on Francis Bernard's 10-yard run with 10:02 left in the third quarter to pull within 35-14, and finished the game with 28 unanswered points before falling by a touchdown or less for the fourth time in the past five games.

Mangum completed 25-of-56 passes for a game-high 315 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, and also ran for a 4-yard score. BYU outgained Utah, 386-197, but also was forced to play a massive game of catchup that proved too much.

Defense: A-

Giving up 28 yards of total offense in the first six minutes of the game isn't bad. But each of Utah's scoring drives came inside the red zone, with one coming inside the 1-yard line, and the Utes added a pair of pick sixes to open the game on a 28-0 run.

All in all, BYU's defense did about as well as it could to limit the Utah offense. Travis Wilson didn't attempt a pass until the 6:44 mark, when the Utes were already up 28-0, an 8-yard completion to backup quarterback Kendal Thompson.

In the first 15 minutes, BYU "held" Utah to 69 yards of total offense — in large part because they never had to drive anywhere close to the length of the field for a touchdown. The Utes' average starting field position was on the Cougars' 27-yard line.

Furthermore, BYU's defense held Utah's offense to 77 total yards in the first half — the lowest one-half output of the season for the Pac 12 South co-champions. Wilson completed just four passes in the first half, but admittedly he didn't even have to attempt that many.

Utah punter Tom Hackett rumbled 21 yards on a fake punt in the third quarter, which was the Utes' longest play from scrimmage through that punt and immediately made him the team's No. 3 rusher with eight minutes left in the period.

Holding the Utes to 197 yards of total offense, and controlling the ground game everywhere but in Joe Williams' 91 yards and two short scores, is commendable. The defense did everything it could to win the game — but one-third of a performance is rarely (if ever) good enough to win a Division I college football game.

Bronson Kaufusi led the squad with nine tackles, three tackles for loss and a pass breakup, and Kai Nacua had eight tackles for the Cougars.

Special teams: B-

Not a lot for the third unit to do for BYU in this one. Riley Burt topped the 100-yard mark on kickoff returns, but Trevor Samson missed his a 44-yard field goal attempt on his first try. The miss wasn't entirely the fault of the senior, who was put in a tough position down 35-0 and sent out to kick a field goal (much to the chagrin of the rounds of booing fans at Sam Boyd Stadium).

Jonny Linehan may be the team's best dancer, but the junior rugby star averaged fewer than 40 yards per punt and only downed the ball inside the 20 once.

Coaching: C+

The decision to try for a field goal in the first quarter was puzzling, and BYU had no answer for Utah's defense early in the game with five straight turnovers to start the game. The offensive playcalling was uncreative, and showed a staff that was halfway to Charlottesville, Virginia, by halftime. The Cougars converted just 8 of 17 third downs, but they did come through both times they were asked to make a fourth-down conversion.

The defensive playcalling had moments of big plays, with eight tackles for loss spread out among the front seven and secondary. But, as mentioned above, this game was hardly about the defense.

Overall: C+

Mendenhall will go off to Virginia without reaching the 100-win milestone as a head coach, though the Cougars would have loved to send him out in such a way. BYU enters an offseason with incoming head coach Kalani Sitake with plenty of experience set to return and only a few key positions — such as at wide receiver and defensive line — to replace. But they also take a five-game losing streak into the next rendition of the BYU-Utah rivalry: Sept. 10 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

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Sean Walker

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