Kyle Whittingham raised his fists and celebrated like a victor would late Saturday night, and his jubilation had something to do with defeating a rival, but more to do with hanging onto hope for what this season might yet become.
If the Utes had lost to BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium … well, their coach didn't want to give that much thought. Savoring a 20-13 Utah win and positively saving a season that could have fallen away from him was most of what could fit into his head. His Utes did what they were required to do to keep their postseason chances a safe distance from fat and slim, thanks, in part, to a Michael Walker pick of a Taysom Hill throw in the final two minutes.
Good enough, then.
Here's a few details: The Utes built a lead through a first half that saw their offense stumble and bumble here and there, but eventually become effective enough to keep the Cougar defense off-balance. By way of 185 passing yards and 101 running, Utah went up, 3-zip, 6-zip, 13-zip. That trend continued just enough through the second half, even when BYU climbed back from a 14-point deficit. The Cougars had a shot at tying it at the end, but couldn't pull that trick off.
Travis Wilson threw for 273 yards and the Ute run game gave just enough. Kicker Andy Phillips drilled two field goals.
The Ute defense limited BYU's vaunted rush attack, allowing 183 yards on the ground. Hill managed 260 passing yards, but, I swear, if a hot-air balloon landed at midfield and he targeted it, he'd hit it only about half the time.
Utah forced what it could, then, and took the rest. And was happy with it.
The benchmark in Whittingham's mind for his Utes this season had nothing to do with a Pac-12 championship or the Rose Bowl. It was far from any idea of grandeur or of the granddaddy of them all.
It had everything to do with something a whole lot less highfalutin, a whole lot more modest namely, accomplishing what 60 percent of FBS schools achieve every year, even when they are mediocre: Make a bowl game, some way, somewhere, somehow. Didn't matter if it was the Shamrock Meats Bowl or the Gaines Burger Bowl.
The Utes needed six wins to get in.
After what happened late Saturday night, Utah is one win closer to crossing the Mendoza Line. It may not be able to beat Oregon State, UCLA or Stanford at home, Arizona or Oregon on the road, but one thing Whittingham has proved the Utes can do is beat BYU at home or on the road.
They did it again Saturday night, in a rivalry game that now goes away sadly, sadly, as it turns out, for them for a few years. The Utes' latest win, their fourth consecutive victory over a rival that can't seem to find a way to keep up anymore, punctuated the point.
See you in 2016.
If there is any remaining doubt as to which football team in Utah is the superior one regardless of Utah's struggles in the Pac-12, regardless of whatever success the Cougars find in independence it's been buried under a mudslide of Ute victories. Utah has now beaten BYU in nine of the last 12 meetings. Every last bit of Cougar hope for rearranging that aforementioned conclusion was punched out of them on their home field in Saturday's nightcap.
It is now done at least over a time span while we're young.
Nobody knew when Chris Hill interrupted the Utah-BYU series with a string of excuses about Utah barreling toward new horizons and lessening the challenge at hand that he really was showing pity on the Cougars, allowing them to take a break from a fight that's left them bluer than blue, bluer than black and blue. Now they can gather themselves for a refreshed effort sometime later this decade.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.