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Las Vegas • Less than eight minutes had passed when Utah set a new Las Vegas Bowl record for points in a first quarter, and BYU, seemingly, a new Sin City record for earliest bedtime.
But BYU rallied to fulfill the prediction of Utah coach Kyle Whittingham: that the result would be in doubt until the bowl's conclusion.
BYU's productivity in the final three quarters wasn't enough to overcome Utah's early success. The Cougars fell 35-28 in the final game of Bronco Mendenhall's tenure, sending him to Virginia a win shy of an even 100. Still, a teary-eyed Mendenhall called his team's resiliency "a pretty good going-away present."
Meanwhile, Utah's 10th win constitutes the program's "high-water mark" since its invitation to the Pac-12, Whittingham said before singing the praises of Mendenhall's successor, longtime Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake.
That Utah won its fifth straight in the series despite what Whittingham called a "very average" second quarter, a "pathetic" third and early fourth quarter and a "pretty average" conclusion speaks to its dominance in the game's early moments.
In a town that prides itself on sating any desire, BYU was the one dealing early.
On BYU's third play, freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum was stripped by junior defensive end Kylie Fitts, the ball then recovered at the BYU 25 by senior linebacker Gionni Paul.
Then, on BYU's fourth play, senior Devon Blackmon was hit by junior Reginald Porter the moment Mangum's pass hit his hands, tipping it to senior safety Tevin Carter for a 28-yard pick-six.
How about another? On BYU's ninth play, senior defensive end Jason Fanaika tipped another Mangum pass, this one caught and returned by Carter to the BYU 1.
And again, on BYU's 13th play, Mangum was drilled as he threw and picked off by junior Dominique Hatfield for a 46-yard score.
Fifteen plays in, when Washington State transfer Squally Canada coughed it up on his first rush as a Cougar forced by sophomore defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei and jumped on by senior linebacker Jason Whittingham at the BYU 39 Utah was averaging a turnover every three downs.
"I've never been part of a game where the first five possessions are turnovers," said Mendenhall, who credited Utah's defensive line for collapsing the pocket around Mangum earlier than he was accustomed to.
That added up to 35 points for Utah, on plays that "weren't gift-wrapped," Whittingham said. "We forced those takeaways and those turnovers."
And then, breaking the record of 21 off takeaways they set in last year's Vegas Bowl against Colorado State, the Utes almost busted.
It had been "like the Oregon game on steroids," for Utah, Whittingham said, recalling Utah's 62-20 win in Eugene. But then, he said, Utah "got complacent."
"That's on me. That's my fault," he said, before adding to laughter, "We've got to do a better job next time we're up 35-0."
BYU's defense held the Utes to 197 total yards, a season low, and Mangum settled down and finished with 315 yards and two touchdowns in his first rivalry game.
Mangum hit senior Remington Peck for a 3-yard score in the final minute of the first half, and then led three more scoring drives in the second during a 28-0 run, capping methodical drives with a short touchdown pass to junior Nick Kurtz and his own headfirst dive past the goal line.
"Tanner's an optimist," Mendenhall said. "That's a great quality to have at quarterback. He thinks he can make any throw, and who are we to tell him different?"
Utah junior running back Joe Williams rushed for two 1-yard touchdowns, giving him three overall since he replaced injured outgoing senior Devontae Booker, and picked up the necessary first downs to seal the victory on his way to 91 yards.
"That was a really good game, a remarkable comeback, and Utah held on, to their credit," Mendenhall said.
Whittingham said the victory was "right up there in the top two or three or four" among Utah's sweetest this season.
Senior quarterback Travis Wilson finished 9-of-16 for 71 yards in his final game as a Ute, his most significant contributions a pair of long gains on the ground, including a 20-yard touchdown scamper after he sidestepped an unfettered BYU blitzer.
Carter took home the game's MVP trophy after what he called a "dream game."
"I never thought I would be able to play BYU," said Carter, who transferred to the U. last year, at the start of what was thought to be a two-year hiatus. "It's just a blessing. I'm lost for words."
The attendance, at 42,213, was the second-largest in Las Vegas Bowl history, second only to the 44,615 crammed into Sam Boyd Stadium with expanded seating when BYU beat Oregon in 2006. BYU, having accepted its invitation earlier and owning a larger school allotment per its contract with the bowl, had what Whittingham felt was a greater portion of attendants.
With four wins, Utah's victory snapped a tie with BYU for the most in Las Vegas Bowl history. Whittingham's ninth bowl victory in 10 tries broke a tie with former USC coach John Robinson for the best bowl winning percentage in NCAA history among head coaches with at least seven wins.
"We feel like we're trending in the right direction," Whittingham said. "We built on last year."
The teams meet again in less than 10 months, at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Sept. 10.
• Utah beats BYU for a fifth consecutive time as Kyle Whittingham moves to 9-1 in bowl games.
• Utah senior safety Tevin Carter is named MVP, picking off two tipped passes and returning one for a touchdown, the other to the BYU 1.
• BYU rallies after turnovers on five consecutive series to start the game, outgaining Utah 386 total yards to 197 in Bronco Mendenhall's final game as head coach.
• BYU freshman QB Tanner Mangum throws for 315 yards and two touchdowns after three early interceptions.