LAS VEGAS – The BYU football team was denied a chance to pull off one of the biggest comebacks in Cougar history and fell short to the University of Utah 35-28 in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
After surrendering five turnovers on its first five possessions, BYU (9-4) found itself in a 35-0 hole after the first 10 minutes of the game. The Cougars would not fold in the game, however.
BYU rallied for a touchdown on its last possession of the first half to trail 35-7. Out of the break, the Cougars strung together three more touchdowns and held the Utes (10-3) scoreless to make it 35-28 with 3:23 remaining in the game. Utah converted two first downs on its final drive to get into the victory formation and prevent the Cougars from having another chance.
After a forgettable first quarter, BYU dominated the statistics, outgaining Utah 386 to 197 in total yards and 315 to 71 in the throwing game. The Cougars averaged 4.8 yards per play to Utah’s 3.0, but 35 points off five turnovers was too much to overcome.
Despite throwing three interceptions and fumbling in the first quarter, true freshman Tanner Mangum stayed composed to finish the game 25 of 56 for 315 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a 4-yard touchdown. He finished his true freshman season with 3,377 passing yards and 23 touchdowns.
Devon Blackmon caught three passes for 97 yards while Nick Kurtz and Remington Peck each caught a touchdown pass. Francis Bernard added one rushing touchdown as part of his seven carries for 58 yards. He added a pair of receptions.
Trying to escape pressure, Mangum fumbled at the 25-yard line on BYU’s first possession. The Utes took advantage on a short field, punching it in from a yard out to take an early 7-0 lead with 10:59 remaining.
On BYU’s next possession a tipped pass fell into the hands of Utah’s Tevin Carter and returned for a score, putting BYU in a 14-point hole just 17 seconds later.
It didn’t get better for the Cougars on the next two possessions. Back-to-back picks for Mangum resulted in another 14 points for Utah. A return to the 1-yard line on the first pick ended in a 1-yard touchdown and the second was a pick-six.
A fifth BYU turnover in five opening possessions set up Utah’s fifth touchdown of the first quarter, making it 35-0 with 4:38 left in first quarter.
The Cougar defense shined after the barrage of turnovers, forcing four consecutive punts for Utah, including three 3-and-outs. BYU finally capitalized on its last drive of the half. Despite being pinned at their own 3-yard line, BYU executed a 97-yard drive to make it 35-7 at half.
Peck caught a 3-yard pass from Mangum to cap the drive. Mangum was 5 of 6 for 83 yards on the drive. Peck’s touchdown reception was the first by a BYU tight end this year.
Not ready to quit, BYU scored on its opening drive out of the half. Mangum hit Bernard on a swing pass in the backfield at the 10-yard line and Bernard rumbled into the end zone for a 10-yard rushing touchdown to make it 35-14 with 10:02 to go in the third quarter.
BYU was driving on its next possession but suffered a sack on third down forcing a punt. Utah put together a five-minute drive but turned the ball over on downs at the BYU 35-yard line one minute into the fourth quarter.
Facing a fourth and 13, Blackmon got loose behind the defense and Mangum found him for a 44-yard gain to keep the drive alive. On another fourth down at the Utah 4-yard line, Mangum rocketed a pass over the middle to Kurtz for a touchdown to get the Cougars within two scores with 10:33 to go.
With 5:05 to go, Utah went for a short 4th–and-1 and the BYU defense stuffed Joe Williams for no gain to get the ball back at the Cougar 40-yard line.
Mangum continued to find open receivers down the field, hitting Blackmon for 45 yards to get BYU inside the Utah 4-yard line. Mangum called his own number and rushed four yards for the score to make it 35-28 with 3:23 on the clock.
The Ute offense did just enough to get two first downs on the ensuing drive and never gave the Cougars a chance to complete an incredible comeback.
BYU finished the season 9-4 and Mendenhall leaves BYU as the second winningest coach in school history with a 99-43 record.