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November 22, 2008

Utes destroy BYU, BCS awaits

Brian Johnson passed for 303 yards and four touchdowns and the seventh-ranked Utes completed a perfect regular season by beating No. 14 BYU 48-24 Saturday, winning the heated state rivalry and taking the undisputed Mountain West Conference title away from the two-time defending champion Cougars (10-2, 6-2).

Utah (12-0, 8-0) forced six turnovers by BYU quarterback Max Hall, including a career-high five interceptions, and went unbeaten in the regular season for the third time in school history. The last Utah team to do it was the BCS Busters of 2004, which was 11-0 before winning the Fiesta Bowl.

The Fiesta is one of the possible bowl destinations for the Utes, who now just have to wait for the announcement Dec. 7.

Utah fans couldn't wait to celebrate and charged the field with 29 seconds left. They were herded off so Johnson could take a knee and run out the clock, then the celebration could really begin. The Utes were swallowed by the sea of red-clad fans who were elated about so many things -- the unbeaten season, the BCS and beating BYU, which hadn't happened for Utah since 2005.

The chant "B-C-S!" rang out through Rice-Eccles Stadium as Johnson received the Mountain West title trophy. Johnson was nearly perfect in his final home game, going 30-for-36 and not turning the ball over once.

Hall's game went just about in the complete opposite direction. Three of his four interceptions led to scores for Utah, as did Hall's fumble at the BYU 31 late in the third quarter.

Hall was 21-for-41 for 205 yards and Austin Collie finished with 10 catches for 104 yards, his 10th straight 100-yard receiving.

The Cougars rallied from down 17-3 to tie it, only to give Utah 10 quick points late in the first half and then self-destruct again after pulling within three points third quarter.

Hall and got the Cougars back within 27-24 on an 11-yard touchdown run with 6:46 left in the third and the Cougars' defense forced a punt to get the ball right back, but it didn't stay with BYU for long. Hall had the ball knocked from his hand when he tried to run as the pocket collapsed around him.

Paul Kruger recovered for Utah at the BYU 31 with 8 seconds left in the quarter and the Utes scored early in the fourth on Johnson's 8-yard touchdown pass to Brent Casteel for a 34-24 lead with 14:31 left in the game.

Hall's troubles snowballed from there.

On the next possession, Kruger dropped back from defensive end into pass coverage and was right in place to pluck Hall's pass out of the air and start heading the other way. Hall tripped up Kruger to keep him from a touchdown, but it was at the 4 and Utah quickly scored on a pass from running back Matt Asiata to Chris Joppru for a 41-24 lead.

Hall threw another interception to Sean Smith, who returned it 38 yards to the BYU 29. Johnson completed the short drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Colt Sampson with 2:48 left in the game.

The Utes were the ones making the mistakes in the first half with two crucial penalties that allowed BYU to tie it after Utah had gone up 17-3.

Kruger was offsides on a play that would have been a sack by Koa Misi, so instead of fourth down with a long field goal attempt BYU had third-and-1 from the 23. Harvey Unga took a pitch around the left end, made one cut inside and ran easily for the touchdown to get the Cougars within 17-10.

Utah had BYU stopped at the 14, but Brice McCain was called for pass interference and the Cougars had first-and-goal from the 2. Unga scored on a direct snap to tie it at 17 with 6:26 left in the half.

Louie Sakoda kicked two field goals for the Utes and Unga finished with 116 rushing yards for BYU.


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