PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Utah’s defense has been touted as one of its best in school history.
Thursday night, BYU found out just how good the Utes are.
The Utes scored three touchdowns off three BYU turnovers to pull away for a 30-12 victory on Thursday night in the opener for both teams.
Over the final 30 minutes, the Cougars gained just 104 yards on 18 total plays.
“We heard all the time about how they had a great offense,” safety Julian Blackmon said. “They have a great team for sure, but we know that man-for-man we’re the better team. So at the end of the day, we just wanted to come out and prove that.”
Utah’s defense did its part, and Zack Moss highlighted the offensive effort.
Moss ran for 181 yards and a touchdown to help the Utes (1-0) earn their ninth straight victory in the 100th game in the Holy War rivalry.
The senior suffered a hand injury in fall camp and wore a protective splint after the game. It didn’t seem to limit it him at all. Moss propelled the offense after halftime by gashing the Cougars for a series of big runs. He averaged 6.2 yards on 29 carries.
The defense took care of the rest.
“It was a big confidence builder for me,” Moss said. “I had so many nerves coming into this game. Just getting hit a few times really hurt at first, but I was just able to start to be myself again. It was good to go out like that.”
Zach Wilson totaled 208 yards on 21-of-33 passing and added 43 yards on the ground to lead BYU (0-1). Wilson also threw a pair of interceptions that Utah returned for touchdowns, one by Blackmon and the other by former Cougar Francis Bernard.
The win was Utah’s 9th straight in the rivalry, matching the longest winning streak for either team in the storied history of this game.
“It’s hard to spot them two touchdowns on pick-sixes,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “That’s difficult for a defense and we felt we were getting in some good positions. I’d like our guys to respond better, defensively, especially those last nine minutes.”
Utah gained just 125 yards in the first half. The Utes totaled only three points on their first two drives after starting on their own 40 and the BYU 33.
With their offense sputtering before halftime, the Utes turned to their defense get some points on the board. Utah took a 9-3 lead in the second quarter when Bernard stepped in front of a wobbly pass from Wilson, as he tried to avoid a sack, and returned it 58 yards, untouched, for a score.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot pretty much every drive in the first half,” tight end Matt Bushman said.
Utah’s offense sprang to life on the opening drive of the third quarter. Jaylen Dixon capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 2-yard sprint to push the Utes’ lead to 16-6. Moss gave Utah a spark with back-to-back 14-yard gains that moved the ball to the BYU 44.
The Utes capitalized on two more BYU turnovers and put the Cougars away in the fourth quarter. Moss punched in a 4-yard touchdown after Mika Tafua recovered a fumble by Williams at the BYU 22. Then, Julian Blackmon returned an interception 39 yards to put Utah up 30-6 with 12:25 remaining.
A lightning delay with 9:01 left in the fourth quarter suspended play for 54 minutes before the game resumed at just after midnight local time.
Utah next hosts Northern Illinois next Saturday, while BYU travels to Tennessee.