Bleeding Red: Frustrating day, but gotta love Clay

Do you remember Muhammad Ali?
Floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee
Kaelin Clay, Cassius Clay, almost the same
Both are the greatest athletes in their game

COMMENTARY — In my humble opinion, Kaelin Clay is the undisputed MVP for the Utes thus far. Three minutes into last Saturday’s game, Clay had his third punt return for a TD this season. Clay is now tied with Steve Smith for most punt returns for a TD in a single season — and there are still eight games left to play.

In case you were wondering, the Utah record for most punt returns for a TD in a career is only four (held jointly by Steve Odom and Steve Smith, who each needed multiple years to reach that mark). Kaelin Clay may catch (or exceed) that number in a single year.

Kaelin Clay
Kaelin Clay

Oh yeah, Kaelin Clay also has a kick return this year for a TD as well (and almost broke free for a second one in the fourth quarter last Saturday).

Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, once declared that he was so mean he made medicine sick. Kaelin Clay has shown a propensity to make kicking teams sick, and I bet future Ute opponents are desperately searching for a cure.

So why would teams kick to him? In Washington State’s defense, it looked like they had tried to kick away from Clay. But Clay corralled the kick on the sideline, bounced off what appeared to be a sure tackle, reversed field with some outstanding blocking in front of him, and took it to the house running down the opposite sideline.

I just wish there could have been more fans in the stadium to see Clay’s performance. While the official head-count claims there was a crowd of 45,859 on hand last Saturday (for the purported seventh biggest crowd in Utah history), that was based on ticket sales, rather than actual attendance because the seats in the stadium were half full, at best.

In all honesty, I can’t fault the fans who stayed home and watched the game from the comfort of their own living rooms. It wasn’t just raining last Saturday — at times it was raining sideways in a vicious wind. To those fans who had the courage and loyalty to withstand the elements and cheer the Utes on in person, I salute you!

I was actually glad to see it rain on Saturday night because I was hoping it would help Utah slow down the Washington State passing attack. I’m not above using the weather as an extra weapon against the opposing team. Hey, if weather wasn’t supposed to be a factor, they wouldn’t let the games be played outside.

Part of the game in football is persevering through whatever conditions might exist, whether it be weather, player injuries, a hostile crowd, etc. This is one of the many reasons why I love football! It’s just like life — there are no guarantees as to what circumstances or conditions you may face at any given point in time, and the key is how you respond to whatever circumstances you find yourself in. I believe a person’s true character comes shining through when tested in the fiery furnace of adversity. Last Saturday, I’m afraid the Utes’ true character may have been revealed.

Getting back to the weather, Tom Hanks famously declared in “A League of Their Own” that there is no crying in baseball. However, ironically, the minute the heavens start crying on the field of play a baseball game will get called faster than a babysitter’s boyfriend disappears when the parents come home. Not so in football.

As the skies rained down on the field, the Utes rained down carnage on the Cougars (at least for the first half).

Utah Utes running back Devontae Booker (23) hurdles Washington State Cougars linebacker Kache Palacio (40) during the second quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Sep 27, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT; Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Utah Utes running back Devontae Booker (23) hurdles Washington State Cougars linebacker Kache Palacio (40) during the second quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Sep 27, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT; Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Utah had two interceptions in the first half, including a pick-six that put the first points on the board for Utah. The Cougars next possession after the pick-six was Kaelin’s Clay’s punt return for a TD. Later in the first quarter Devontae Booker had a 76-yard TD run, putting the Utes up 21-0 barely nine minutes into the game.

However, the game was a tale of two halves for Utah. As Dickens once penned, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The first half was the best, with Utah taking a 24-7 lead into the locker room. But as good as the Utes were in the first half, they were just as bad in the second.

Washington State mounted a comeback, taking its first lead at 28-27 with less than five minutes to play in the game. The Utes failed on two more offensive possessions and that was it. They grasped defeat from the hands of victory.

“Obviously a big disappointment in our game Saturday — a game that we had complete control of and let it get away from us,” coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday afternoon. “Once you get control of a football game you have to maintain it.”

There is more than enough blame to go around. The offense scored fewer points than the defense and kick return team. The once stout defense hemorrhaged both yards and points in the second half. Missed opportunities on both sides of the ball were costly.

“Everyone’s disappointed, everyone’s frustrated,” Whittingham said. “That’s one of the few times that I can remember in a long time when we won the turnover margin by plus two and lost the football game. That is an anomaly that shouldn’t have happened but it did.”

For Utah, there’s nothing to do but move on. What’s done is done, and there is no changing it now. But Utah is going to regret letting the Washington State game slip through its fingers.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Utes from this point forward. Utah goes on the road this week to face eighth-ranked UCLA. Four of the Utes’ remaining eight opponents are currently ranked 16th or higher (and two more opponents are getting votes in the polls). Here’s hoping Utah can still find three more wins along the way.

Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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