Last season in week two, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake decided to go for two instead of take the game into overtime at Rice-Eccles Stadium against rival Utah.
The conversion was stopped by Utah’s defense, allowing the Utes to survive with a nail-biting victory. But fast forward over a year later, and the same gamble backfired against the Utes as they were looking for a key conference win against 13th-ranked USC.
A Troy Williams keeper fell short of the goal line, allowing the Trojans to hang on 28-27, all after incurring a large halftime deficit at the Coliseum.
Five teams from the Pac-12 South came into Saturday with one loss in conference play, and the Utes knew going in that Saturday was key to their quest of winning a division title.
The Ute’s defense was successful at flustering Trojan quarterback Sam Darnold early. USC fumbled the ball three times in the first half, the first of which was returned by Ute junior Marquise Blair for a touchdown to put the Utes on top 7-0.
Darnold would then answer with the first of two touchdown passes on the night to Tyler Petite to tie it at 7, before Troy Williams and Demari Simpkins began to team up for the road team. Williams, the Ute’s regular starter last year and the quarterback who led Utah to a come from behind victory over the Trojans a year ago in Salt Lake City, made his third consecutive start running new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor’s offense.
In the second quarter, the senior handed off to the sophomore, Simpkins, who then threw back to Williams the other way for a 5-yard trick-play score and the lead at 14-7. Williams followed suit by returning the favor to Simpkins with a 33-yard strike to give Utah a 21-7 lead at the half.
But then Darnold, frustrated by his first half performance, proceeded to pick it up out of the locker room with three consecutive unanswered scoring drives. It started with a 17-yard connection to Petite in the third, before the Trojans tied it with 13:34 left in the game.
From the one-yard line, Darnold rolled to his right with Utah’s frontline defense bringing the pressure before finding Josh Falo in the end zone to tie the game at 21.
The Trojans would then march back quickly in search of their first lead, and they got it after Ronald Jones II flipped across the pylon for USC with 4:54 left.
The Utes, down 28-21, still had plenty of time to rally and beat the Trojans for the second consecutive year, and Williams once again made things interesting. The senior pushed the pile across from a yard out to score the Utes’ only points of the second half, and it appeared as if the nationally-televised game was heading into overtime when Whittingham elected to play for the win instead of the tie.
But Williams would fail to repeat the magic this time around. After failing to find an open receiver on the conversion, his desperation scramble came up a yard shy of pulling off the Pac-12 shocker.
With their second straight defeat, Utah drops to 4-2 and 1-2 in conference play. They return home to face Arizona State next week.