Pure entertainment and off-the-charts intensity is what you can expect when BYU and Utah face off on a football field. The Holy War has grown into one of the nation's fiercest rivalries because of a series of memorable plays and dramatic finishes over the years.
The Cougars and the Utes will renew their rivalry in Salt Lake City this weekend after taking a regular season hiatus over the past two seasons. Both teams capped off the 2015 season by meeting in the Las Vegas Bowl — a contest that ended in a 35-28 victory for Utah after the Utes capitalized on five first quarter turnovers to jump out to a 35-0 lead.
Incredible records, fantastic individual performances and unique lore are tied up in the history of one of the nation's most underrated college football rivalries.
Counting wins and losses in the Holy War can differ based on your allegiance. BYU and Utah can't agree on the actual overall record of the series. The Utes claim a 58-34-4 lead in the all-time series. The Cougars, on the other hand, claim the series record is 55-31-4 in favor of Utah.
A reason for the discrepancy? Utah counts six games it played against Brigham Young Academy — BYU's original name from 1875-03 — from 1896-98. BYU, on the other hand, only counts games played starting from 1922 — the year the school officially counts as its inaugural football season.
Record-Setting Offensive Performances
In a two-year span, BYU and Utah each set team scoring records in the series. It started in 1988 when the Utes broke a nine-year losing streak in the series by demolishing the Cougars 57-28. Utah forced eight turnovers in the game and set a series record for points scored against BYU. It also was the most lopsided victory over the Cougars at the time, dating back to a 47-13 rout in 1964.
BYU exacted revenge the next season, drubbing Utah 70-31 in 1989. Behind sophomore quarterback Ty Detmer, BYU scored eight touchdowns on its first eight drives and rolled up 750 yards of total offense. The 70 points scored by the Cougars remains the most points a Utah defense has ever given up in a single game.
Ending BYU's Scoring Streak
Under long-time head coach LaVell Edwards, BYU built its college football identity around a prolific offense that scored in bunches. The Cougars set a then NCAA record scoring streak of 361 games that extended from 1975 to 2003. Ironically, the streak came to end against Utah.
Utah, in Urban Meyer's first season as head coach, locked down BYU completely in a 3-0 victory. It marked the 18th time the Utes had shut out the Cougars in series history. BYU generated only 153 yards of total offense. The game's lone score came when Bryan Borreson converted a 41-yard field goal with 4:13 left in the second quarter.
Before Edwards made football relevant at BYU, wins over Utah were a rare phenomenon for the Cougars. From 1896 to 1971, Utah amassed a 41–8–4 (.811) record against BYU. The Utes strung together a 21-game unbeaten streak stretching from 1898 to 1941, shutting out BYU 12 times and allowing just 71 total points. Utah, on the other hand, averaged 25.2 points per contest.
Just being competitive soon became a big deal for the Cougars. In 1953, BYU faced Utah in one of the first college football games broadcast nationwide on television. The Utes held off a late fourth quarter rally to win 33-32. Several BYU players celebrated the close loss by carrying head coach Chick Atkinson off the field after the game.
Wilson's NCAA Record
BYU produced a string of quarterbacks under Edwards that routinely rewrote the NCAA record book during their playing careers. One record, in particular, came at the expense of Utah. Sophomore quarterback Marc Wilson broke a single-game NCAA record (since broken) when he threw for 571 yards in a 38-8 victory over the Utes in 1977.
The only problem? BYU coaches put Wilson back into the game in the final minutes with the game well in hand so he could get the record. He completed three passes, including an eight-yard touchdown pass to John VanDerWouden, to set the record. This move drew the ire of Utah head coach Wayne Howard after the game. The Utes exacted revenge a year later, upsetting BYU 23-22 after rallying from a 16-point halftime deficit.
Final Play Fireworks
One thing that has made the Holy War one of the nation's best rivalries is the sheer amount of the games that have gone down to the wire in recent seasons. Twelve of the last 15 games between BYU and Utah have been decided by a touchdown or less. Incredibly, the game has been decided on the final play four different times in that stretch.
BYU won 33-31 in 2006 when John Beck hit Jonny Harline with an 11-yard TD pass on the final play. The Cougars also won 26-23 in 2009 when Max Hall connected with Andrew George on a 25-yard score in overtime. Utah won 17-16 in 2010 when Brandon Burton blocked a field goal as time expired and the Utes prevailed by a 24-21 score in 2012 when a 36-yard field goal from Riley Stephenson bounced off the upright on the final play.
BYU won 19 of 21 games over Utah from 1972-92. This two-decade domination came to a halt when Utah head coach Ron McBride broke through with three straight wins in the series (1993-95).The first two victories came by identical 34-31 scores.
Utah notched a 34-31 victory in 1993 when kicker Chris Yergensen drilled a 55-yard field goal with 25 seconds left. Yergensen missed two other field goals from 35 and 37 yards earlier before hitting the game winner. The Utes won 34-31 again a year later after a 67-yard kickoff return by Cal Beck set up a game-winning, 20-yard TD pass from current San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy to receiver Charlie Brown.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)