No of two in Pac-12 play
There’s nothing really to say
I’m too mad to shed a tear
No moral victory here
COMMENTARY — As a father, over the years I have learned that my children are one of the primary sources of both my greatest joy and my greatest sorrow. I love my son and two daughters unconditionally. I revel in their successes, and I am crushed when misfortune befalls them — be it beyond their own control or of their own doing.
Looking back, I now have a fuller appreciation for my relationship with my own father. I have finally realized that all of those times when I thought it was impossible to please him, I was just making excuses for failing to fulfill my own potential; potential which he recognized in me, even when I did not see it myself.
My relationship with the Utah Utes is somewhat similar. Come what may, I will always bleed red (literally, and figuratively). I could not have been more proud or happier than when I was sitting smack dab in the middle of a slew of solemnly silent Alabama fans on the sidelines of the Sugar Bowl. Last Thursday, it was all I could do to keep from pounding my head against the wall as I watched Utah self-destruct after taking a 14-7 lead over UCLA.
Watching the Utes go down in defeat to UCLA last Thursday was a roller coaster ride of emotions. Those were the best of times, and the worst of times (and it was the Styx song that kept running through my mind, not the classic Dickens dialogue).
There were some positive aspects of the game that deserve mention.
Even though Utah’s defense started slow and allowed UCLA to drive the length of the field for an opening possession touchdown, Utah dominated virtually every aspect of the game for the remainder of the first quarter.
Overall, the Utes held UCLA to 404 total yards, which was 210 yards less than the Bruins’ prior average of 614 yards (tops in the Pac-12, and second nationally going into last week). Utah also held UCLA to 18 points less than its average score (second in the Pac-12, and third nationally going into last week). The U defense also held UCLA’s star receiver Shaquelle Evans to a single catch for 11 yards, and shut down top Bruins running back Jordan James.
But as well as Utah played at times, it played just as poorly at others.
Utah continues to be horrific on third-down conversions, managing just 2 of 13 on third downs for the game. The biggest problem is the lack of production on first and second downs, leading to third and long situations.
And of course, the 6 interceptions absolutely killed Utah. It’s not like UCLA’s defense has a lot of ball hawks, either. Going into last week, UCLA only had a single interception, and was minus-two in overall turnover margin.
The interceptions were not just Travis Wilson’s fault. In fact, there is more than enough blame to go around. While Wilson did make some bad throws, many balls were tipped and put up for grabs. The most frustrating interception was the one that fell on Utah’s receiver’s chest as he lay on the ground, and instead of the receiver just wrapping his arms around the ball for the catch the defender plucked the ball up for the interception.
You simply cannot throw six picks and still expect to win. But as incredible as it may sound, Utah still had a chance right up through the final minutes of the game. If Jake Murphy could have gotten one foot down in bounds in the end zone with 26 seconds left, Utah could have tied or possibly taken the lead. It was only appropriate that any hope for Utah would be finally dashed by the sixth interception.
Giving Utah credit for still being in a position to win at the end of the game is like watching a child pick up an antique vase and throw it against the floor smashing it into pieces, and then patting the child on the head and praising them for doing such a fine job of picking up the pieces even though the vase is lost forever.
Veteran head coach Kyle Whittingham understands this concept.
“There are no moral victories,” he said. “I firmly believe that. But there are a lot of positives to build upon.”
In other words, a win is a win and a loss, no matter how close and exciting, is still a loss.
Perhaps it is an oversimplification, but it is still true — the margin of defeat in both of Utah’s losses has been an interception returned for a touchdown. Tell me that isn’t maddening.
The really frustrating aspect of all of this is that the Utes have shown the potential to be better than they have been. I refuse to call Utah’s near miss with UCLA a moral victory. When all is said and done, moral victories are for losers who cannot otherwise win. Utah is a winner that keeps finding ways to lose.
During the game last Thursday night, I kept looking for Griffin from Men in Black 3 — you know, the alien who can see all of the possible futures depending on how the present events unfold. I was wondering if I was in the possible future in which Utah pulls off a stunning upset. It turned out it was the possible future in which Utah can’t quite get it done against a Pac-12 team (again).
When Griffin talks about what makes a difference in determining which possible future comes to fruition, it is always one or two seemingly insignificant details. The Utes are knocking on the door and are only one or two plays a game from being undefeated.
There is no rest for the weary. This Saturday Utah hosts No. 5-ranked Stanford. The Utes have the potential to make this a program-defining, signature win. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see which possible future actually plays out in reality.
Dwayne Vance is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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