For a game known as “The Holy War,” the players did their fair share of sinning.
In what could be one of the final football games between BYU and Utah, the two teams combined for 19 penalties for 187 yards Saturday evening, with many coming at crucial points in the game.
The most notorious and gregarious of the penalties will be the lasting memory of the game — the Mighty Utah Student Section (MUSS) sprinting onto the field from the sideline during a live ball and drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The penalty, something completely independent of the two teams on the field, moved the line of scrimmage 15 yards closer to the uprights and the possibility of overtime. In a defensive struggle, the game was nearly decided by fan interference.
The game, however, was decided by fan interference long before exhausted, passionate and exuberant fans poured over the barriers separating the crowd and the players. When BYU took the field, Rice-Eccles Stadium roared its displeasure at the blue-garbed invaders stepping foot on the turf.
The volume of the 45,653 fans caused confusion from the first snap. Starting with his heels on the goal line, Riley Nelson was not able to receive the snap cleanly and was tackled in the end zone for a safety before Utah defensive end Jon Kruger was whistled for a personal foul, keeping the scoreboard empty.
The fan noise would create chaos for the remainder of the game. The Cougars’ first drive was ended by a false start, courtesy of senior Braden Hansen. Hansen would not finish the game with the only false start for BYU — the team would be penalized for movement prior to the snap six more times before the game would end.
The worst trespass? With 1:06 on the clock before retreating back into the locker room at halftime, Utah punter Tom Hackett pinned BYU on the team’s own eight-yard line. The Utah defense bounced onto the field, waving their arms to get the crowd into a roar. After a Utah timeout, BYU came to the line and, not once, but twice, moved before the snap, drawing the ball back to the two-yard line, six feet away from the end zone and another potential safety.
The lack of discipline left Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall surprised after the game.
“I’m disappointed in any penalty that helped our opponent and any penalty that was unnecessary, and those certainly were,” Mendenhall said.
The lack of discipline that resulted in a large amount of penalties has been a problem for BYU this season. BYU came into the Holy War game with 16 penalties for 181 yards in its first two games.
The more telling stat was the offensive line, which features two seniors, was ineffective against a crowd of 45,653. BYU will travel to Boise State to play a quality program in the first game of an eight-game series. While Bronco Stadium seats around 37,000 fans, the blue turf and short week to prepare may cause problems that no amount of Nelson to Hoffman can fix.
“We were exposed in that we can’t handle noise,” said quarterback Riley Nelson. “I’ve played up in Boise, and it’s just as, if not more, noisy. That will be an emphasis this week in practice. Credit their (Utah’s) crowd.”
The game against Boise State will be an excellent indicator of the amount of discipline BYU will take on the road to South Bend on Oct. 20 to play Notre Dame — in a stadium with 80,795 screaming fans.
Here’s hoping that when students sing, “You will fight, day or night, rain or snow,” it will stop referring to BYU’s behavior.