The University of Utah football team held off a late surging Brigham Young University at the Royal Purple Las Vegas bowl over the weekend to win 35 to 28. But beyond the final score, the game represents the different directions these two football programs are heading.
While the Cougars went down fighting, the win marks the fifth straight time the Utes have beaten their in-state rival. And that streak says a lot about the direction both programs are going. The bowl game was BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s last as a Cougar. During his tenure he had little success against Utah, but he said he feels like he’s left the program in good condition.
“I think I’ve left the program as a team that wins about nine games a year, that has very good grades, that has players that want to be at BYU because of the standards and that want to work hard," he said. "I think there’s an outstanding foundation in place for someone else to come and put their stamp on it.”
That someone else will be former Oregon State and Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. So while the outlook for BYU isn’t necessarily negative, it’s at best unknown.
Meanwhile, the Utes started out strong but faded down the stretch, both in this game and on the season. But Head Coach Kyle Whitngham says he believes ending the year with 10 wins is a big step forward for his players.
“We were one game short of where we ultimately wanted to be, which is the PAC-12 championship game," Whittingham said. "And had we been able to find one more win during the second half of the season we would have been in that. But that’s should of, would of, could of. But, bottom line it’s a positive step and the program is trending in the right direction as far as we’re concerned.”
The Utes will likely finish the season ranked in the top 20. As for the Cougars, they’ll be working overtime trying to transition from the second most winningest coach in school history, to one who will be doing it for the first time.