In a weekend of upsets the Utes played their part
And showed that their team truly has heart
At 28-27 it was déjà vu
But this time Utah’s offense came shining through
COMMENTARY — It is no great mystery how Yogi Berra would have described the match-up between the Utes and the Bruins: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” The parallels between the Washington State and UCLA games were so prevalent that I was scared to death that the outcomes of the two games would be identical as the final minutes wound down in southern California late last Saturday night.
In both games, Utah put the first points on the board with an interception returned for a touchdown. In both games, the Ute defense was dominant throughout the first half. Once again, Utah’s offense struggled to start the game, yet still took a double-digit lead over the Bruins to the locker room at half time (a 10-point lead, similar to the 17-point lead over the Cougars a week earlier). Reminiscent of the prior week, receivers dropped passes that should have been caught.
At home just seven days earlier, the Utes had led the entire game, only to relinquish the lead for the first time with a mere 4:58 left to play in the game and a 28-27 score that would still be on the board when time expired. On the road at the Rose Bowl, Utah led the entire game again, relinquishing the lead for the first time with 4:50 left to play with the same ominous 28-27 score blazing on the scoreboard over the field.
In the disappointing finish against Washington State, Utah’s offense struggled to get past midfield in spite of two different possessions to attempt to do so. However, against UCLA the Utes put together a 63-yard drive that resulted in a 29-yard field goal by Andy Phillips to put Utah up by 2 points with 28 seconds left to play.
But the game wasn’t over yet. The Bruins managed to set up a long field goal attempt from 55 yards out that sailed wide of the uprights as time seemingly expired. A very questionable roughing the kicker call extended the game as UCLA’s kicker stepped on Eric Rowe as he lay prone on the field after diving to block the kick, and in a performance that would be hard to best on a Hollywood set, the kicker went down like a ton of bricks. Fortunately, karma was kind to the Utes as the second kick attempt from 50 yards was also wide of the uprights, and Utah walked off the field victorious.
The Utes’ unlikely win over the eighth-ranked Bruins was just one of many upsets in college football over the weekend. Overall, eight ranked teams fell victim to lower-ranked (and even unranked) teams, with 5 of the top 8 teams losing for the first time since the rankings came out.
But for Notre Dame’s touchdown pass on fourth-and-11 with barely a minute left in the game, Stanford would have made it nine upsets over ranked teams. As it turned out, all four of the ranked Pac-12 teams lost. The Pac-12 standings are now an absolute train wreck.
“It’s interesting to say the least,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Right now it’s wide open. I don’t think there is a clear-cut favorite in either division. It could be real exciting. We’ll see how it unfolds.”
Cal leads the North Division as the only team with two wins. Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford are knotted in a three-way tie for third with identical 1-1 records. Arizona tops the South Division as the only team left that is undefeated in conference play. Yes, the same Arizona that just barely squeaked by the University of Texas at San Antonio in Week 2 defeated Oregon in Eugene and is currently the top dog in the conference and No. 10 nationally.
The Pac-12 still has six teams ranked, with Utah checking in at No. 24.
One last note on the many upsets over the weekend — congratulations to Utah State for beating BYU in Provo for the first time since 1978. Ironically, Jim McMahon’s jersey was retired last Friday before the game with the Aggies, and Jim McMahon played for BYU back in 1978. Perhaps Utah State should consider flying McMahon into Provo for all games between the Aggies and the Cougars from now on.
Utah’s win over UCLA raised almost as many questions as it answered. Which team are we going to see more of going forward — the team that let a game get away at home against Washington State, or the team that stepped up and beat UCLA on the road? In other words, rather than struggling to merely be bowl eligible, have the Utes taken the next step and deserve their current national ranking? Has Kendall Thompson now supplanted Travis Wilson as Utah’s starting quarterback? We will just have to wait and see. As for that last question, well, that is one weighing heavy on Whittingham’s mind Monday afternoon.
“Kendal Thompson came in in relief of Travis and made the most of that opportunity,” he said.
When asked if Thompson is new starting QB: “Haven’t decided that yet. We’re still working through the depth chart. That will be released probably Wednesday. He’s made a strong case for himself obviously. It’s an important decision and we want to make sure we do everything we should do evaluation-wise and come up with the right answer.”
The Utes now have a bye this week so they can catch their breath, sort out the quarterback position, and get ready to play Oregon State on the road on Thursday, Oct. 16.
Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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