PROVO, Utah (AP) — Strong defense has been a trademark of many past Utah teams. After a shaky performance in a loss to Oregon State, the Utes had legitimate questions on if their defense had finally lost a step.
After shutting down a potent BYU rushing attack, it's safe to say Utah has found a defensive groove once again.
The Utes (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) held the Cougars in check for the bulk of four quarters on their way to a 20-13 victory on Saturday night. BYU (1-2) did not score its only touchdown of the game until Michael Alisa punched in a 1-yard run with 5:13 left.
BYU did gain 443 yards of total offense, but the Cougars could not generate the yardage when it counted. BYU converted just 3-of-5 red zone chances, were 5-of-21 on 3rd downs and 1-of-4 on fourth downs.
"I knew our defense was going to do a great job," Utah quarterback Travis Wilson said. "We just got to make sure on offense we move the ball in the fourth quarter. We should have ended the game a little bit sooner but, other than that, we did a good job."
Wilson did just enough on offense to make the defense's effort add up to a victory. He threw for 273 yards and two touchdown passes on 24-of-35 passing. Dres Anderson was his top target, with 141 yards on eight receptions.
James Poole added 96 yards on 18 carries for the Utes, who won their fourth straight game over the Cougars. Utah has won nine of the last 12 games in the series.
More importantly for Utah, it will carry the winning streak at least until 2016 while the rivalry takes a two-year hiatus.
"This smile is going to be on my face forever," Anderson said. "I've never lost to BYU and I'm happy about that. I can say that for years and years. It's great."
Taysom Hill threw for 260 yards and an interception on 18-of-48 passing and ran for 99 yards on 20 carries to lead BYU. The Cougars appeared poised to make a comeback after Alisa's fourth quarter touchdown run.
BYU had a chance to tie it up a few minutes later, but Michael Walker intercepted Hill's pass on 4th-and-13 from the Utah 38 with 1:37 left to slam the door on the Cougar comeback.
"We knew what was at stake for the whole team," Walker said. "We just wanted to win badly. That's all. We just wanted it."
Utah stifled BYU's offense throughout the first half. The Cougars went 3-and-out on four possessions and crossed midfield only three times. BYU's only scoring opportunity resulted in a missed 32-yard field goal from Justin Sorensen.
It took Utah some time to find a rhythm on offense. Freshman kicker Andy Phillips got things going early for the Utes. He connected on a 36-yard field goal to give Utah a 3-0 lead in the first quarter after James Poole raced down the sideline for 65 yards to get the Utes in scoring position. His second field goal - this time from 31 yards out - pushed the lead to 6-0 with 8:05 left before halftime.
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