Zach Moss’ 181 rushing yards push Utah past BYU in season opener

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BYU lines up against Utah’s offensive line during the rivalry clash on Thursday, Aug. 29. (Addie Blacker)

LaVell Edwards Stadium was alive with energy Thursday night as it was packed near capacity with 61,626 fans. A sea of royal blue was spotted with the red of attending Utah fans, many of who braved the traffic and construction for the two-plus-hour drive down from Salt Lake City. The crowd roared along with the jets flying overhead during the national anthem and stood on their feet to welcome the 2019 BYU football squad to the field. As is tradition, thunderous boos greeted the Utah team as it took the field. This year’s iteration of the BYU-Utah rivalry kicked off the NCAA football season as dusk set in Provo and the Y on the mountainside was set aglow.

Utah won the opening coin toss and deferred to receive the ball at the start of the second half. After receiving the opening kickoff, the Cougars worked their way down the field with a 26-yard connection from BYU quarterback Zach Wilson to tight end Matt Bushman, but the drive stalled near the 40. A risky call by BYU head coach Kalani Sitake to go for it on fourth down didn’t pay off and resulted in a turnover on downs.

Utah was able to capitalize on the turnover, taking control of the scoreboard with a field goal after driving to the BYU 23-yard line. Utah shut BYU down on the following drive, forcing a quick three-and-out to get the ball back.

A 40-yard punt return by Britain Covey set Utah up at the BYU 33-yard line, but the Cougars came up big with a fourth-down stop when defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku smothered Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley as he scrambled on fourth and three.

BYU capitalized on the big stop, marching 59 yards down to the Utah 15-yard line before settling for a field goal of their own, knocked through from 32 yards by BYU kicker Jake Oldroyd. The greatly-anticipated rivalry game was off to a strong start with both teams on the scoreboard, the game tied at 3-3.

The BYU student section cheers on BYU football during the team’s season opener against Utah. (Addie Blacker)

Utah’s Josh Nurse was slow to recover the kick, and BYU’s special teams unit made him pay, pinning Utah down at their own five-yard line. Utah running back Zach Moss narrowly avoided a tackle at his own goal line as he rushed for seven yards on first down.

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley rushed seven more yards for a first down, but BYU came up with a big stop on the next set of downs, aided by a Utah delay of game penalty, smothering Huntley on third down. BYU’s offense was able to return the field with good field position after Utah’s Ben Lennon punted the ball away to be downed at midfield.

The opportunity was quickly squandered as Wilson failed to evade pressure on second and short and threw an interception into the waiting arms of Utah linebacker Francis Bernard who returned it all the way for six. Utah’s Andrew Strauch banged the extra point off the left upright, and Utah failed to extend the lead beyond 9-3.

BYU worked their way downfield on their next possession carried by Zach Wilson’s legs and arm. On a third and five play from midfield, Wilson danced downfield evading defenders for a 26 yard gain, bringing BYU into striking distance. But a botched snap by BYU backup quarterback Jaren Hall on third down knocked the Cougars out of the red zone and they were forced to settle for a 37-yard field goal.

Zach Wilson evades Utah defenders as he breaks free for a big gain on foot. (Addie Blacker)

On the ensuing drive, Utah quickly rushed the ball to midfield before a thunderous LaVell Edwards Stadium saw BYU’s Keenan Pili stifle Zach Moss on third and one, forcing Utah to punt.

The following BYU possession again resulted in a thunderous BYU crowd, but instead characterized by a chorus of boos as Wilson took a hard hit while seemingly giving himself up. BYU stalled at their own 32-yard line but a 56-yard punt by Jake Oldroyd downed Utah inside their own 10. One play later, Moss took to the ground once again for 28 more yards, bringing Utah out to the 36. But it wasn’t enough to bring Utah into scoring position before the clock wound down on the half several plays later.

The halftime score showed Utah up 9-6. Wilson’s 131 yards through the air and 36 yards on the ground accounted for most of BYU’s offense, but Utah’s Zach Moss posted a 75-yard first half behind the protection of Utah’s offensive line and wasn’t even close to finished.

Utah received the opening kickoff and once again got to work on the ground. Back-to-back 14-yard rushes by Moss quickly brought the Utes into Cougar territory. A pair of BYU penalties and a Huntley quarterback rush for 13 gave Utah a first-and-goal opportunity on the BYU two-yard line. The Utes quickly capitalized with a two-yard Jaylen Dixon touchdown run, the first offensive touchdown of the game, which extended Utah’s lead to 16-6 following the extra point.

The Cougars struggled on their following possession, and except for a Ty’Son Williams 10-yard run that brought BYU out to the 39-yard line, came up blank. After a first down, the Cougars once again punted the ball away.

BYU tight end Matt Bushman gets taken down by Utah defenders in the teams’ season-opening matchup. (Addie Blacker)

It was now do-or-die time for the Cougars defensive unit as Utah received the ball up by 10 points midway through the third quarter.

Utah notched another first down and brought the ball near midfield with a Moss reception and rush, but face mask and holding penalties on consecutive plays pushed them back to their own 19-yard line. Penalties would cut both ways after a BYU stop on ensuing downs was negated by a face mask penalty of their own, giving Utah a chance to keep the drive alive. Utah had a chance at a 25-yard field goal after a Tareke Lewis rush for 11 and Huntley pass to Brant Kuithe for 26 yards brought them within the red zone, but the drive stalled at the five-yard line, and the field goal attempt flew wide right.

The Cougar’s victory was short lived, however, as a Williams fumble on second down was covered by Utah, giving them the chance to start their drive on the BYU 22-yard line. Utah didn’t hesitate and punched the ball into the end zone three plays later on a Moss rush for four yards, extending the Utah lead to 23-6.

The ensuing BYU drive all but sealed the Utah victory with another Zach Wilson pick-six, this time run back 39 yards by Utah’s Julian Blackmon. Deflated BYU fans began to file out of Edwards Stadium with 12:35 remaining on the game clock, the Utah lead extended to 30-6.

BYU’s next drive was their most impressive of the night as they advanced 75 yards in nine plays, finishing with a 10-yard Williams rushing touchdown, but it was too little, too late. The attempted point after failed as the snap was fumbled, leaving the score at 30-12 with just over nine minutes remaining.

BYU tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau plays in the BYU-Utah rivalry game as rain begins to pour down in the fourth quarter. (Addie Blacker)

Rain that had held off the whole game came pouring down, and thousands of fans fled for cover with 9:04 on the game clock, seemingly having seen enough. The lyrics, “I bless the rains down in Africa,” from Toto’s “Africa” played as remaining fans, including a near-full student section, refused to have their spirits dampened. They hung around, dancing and singing in the rain, only to have a lightning delay called, prolonging the inevitable BYU loss. The spirits of Utah fans filling the northwest section of Edwards Stadium were certainly not dampened either, but as the delay persisted and rain continued to pour, they cleared out along with the rest, leaving the stadium all but empty.

As the rain slowed, remaining fans slowly filed back in, and 54 minutes later, gameplay resumed in a largely empty Edwards Stadium. A scoreless Utah drive ate away the remainder of the clock, cementing a 30-12 Utah victory.

The long and merciless rivalry losing streak BYU holds now extends to nine games, leaving BYU fans to hope for next season.

BYU and Utah football players mingle after the 30-12 BYU loss on Thursday, Aug. 29. (Addie Blacker)

BYU ended the game with a three-turnover deficit and 300 yards of total offense to Utah’s 362. Ty’Som Williams led BYU on the ground with seven carries for 45 yards. Wilson went 21-33 through the air for 208 yards, with Bushman leading in receptions with six for 62 yards, but the offense couldn’t keep up with Utah’s 256 yards on the ground.

BYU’s Zayne Anderson led the team in solo tackles with seven total — six solo and a shared tackle for loss. Kavika Fonua and Austin Lee also totaled seven tackles apiece.

Following the game, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said he was happy with much of the first-half performance, but key penalties and turnovers stifled the team’s momentum. Ultimately, he praised Utah for their efforts.

“Give credit to Utah … I think they’re going to make some noise,” he said.

Sitake further praised Zach Moss, noting the difficulty BYU had stopping the Utah running back who posted a monster 181 rushing yards.

Speaking on the rivalry, Sitake noted his obvious disappointment in the loss, but said, “I think there’s a lot of respect on both sides … they’re friends of ours.”

Sitake said the team is going to look forward to the rest of the season, and hopefully come back strong against Tennessee next week. “We’re going to go back to the drawing board, watch film, evaluate and get better,” he said.

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