Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be,
With the whole wide world watching you win on TV.
Except when they don’t. Because sometimes they won’t.
I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win ‘cause you’ll play against you.
“Oh, the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss
COMMENTARY — I just couldn’t think of a more fitting description on my own of where Utah is in its season right now.
On the one hand, you have somewhat unexpected success that launched the Utes into the Top 20 and a slew of late Saturday night games so people could watch them on TV during prime time.
With all due respect to Oregon, last Saturday Utah had to play against two opponents — the Ducks and the Utes themselves, which is a very difficult game to win as astutely pointed out by the sage Dr. Seuss.
“Momentum” is a term used in physics to describe the motion of an object. The classic definition of momentum is mass times velocity. In other words, the amount of momentum a particular object has depends on how big the object is and how fast it is moving. A team that is said to have momentum on its side has all of the different components of its team (the mass) working together towards a common goal (the velocity). However, especially in sports, momentum can be elusive and difficult to hold onto.
Last week, Utah grabbed momentum by the horns and rode it to a touchdown on the opening drive to take a 7-point lead over Oregon. Special teams set up the drive by returning the opening kick to the 49-yard line. The offense executed a textbook 51-yard scoring drive without a single negative play. On Oregon’s first play from scrimmage, Marcus Mariota ran for 61 yards all the way to Utah’s 14-yard line. Three plays later the Utes had pushed the Ducks back to the 41-yard line and forced a punt. All components of Utah’s team (the mass) were working in harmony, all going the same direction (velocity) to create a huge wave of momentum in favor of the Utes.
On the first play of the second quarter, Travis Wilson connected with Kaelin Clay on a 78-yard play that should have been 79-yards, but came up 1-yard short of the end zone. I’m sure by now you have all heard about how Clay dropped the ball on the 1-yard line, and how Oregon picked up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown going the other way. Instead of a 14-point lead, the game was suddenly tied. Momentum, Ducks.
From that point on, the momentum never truly shifted back to Utah. The Utes showed heart, and made a real effort to scratch and claw their way back into the game, but they fought an uphill battle the remainder of the game and could never quite find their way to the top.
Not surprisingly, Clay’s indiscretion has gone viral in today’s social media-centric world. And, while the legitimate media outlets refrained from using words like “bonehead” to describe the incident, the implication was there. Plus, other web sites were not so kind. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham understands more than anyone that Clay has done a lot of great things for this team.
“He made a mistake,” Whittingham said. “I put it on us as coaches … We haven’t coached until they have learned. If they haven’t learned, then it’s our fault as coaches.”
I’m willing to bet Kaelin is going to get “coached” about not dropping the ball, but I love the way Witt is handling this publicly and deflecting blame away from Kaelin and instead taking responsibility by the coaches.
Plus, and let’s be honest here, playing the No. 4-ranked team in the country (according to the latest College Football Playoff Rankings), it would have been a minor miracle if the Utes had actually won. Just a week earlier, they lost on the road, in overtime, to a very good Arizona State team. Last weekend, Notre Dame did not fare nearly as well as Utah had the previous week as the Sun Devils beat up the Fighting Irish 55-31.
Oregon and Arizona State are both very good teams, and there is no shame in losing to such high-caliber opponents. The Washington State loss is a little more difficult to swallow, but that is more than tempered by quality wins over UCLA and USC, in my book. Apparently, other sports writers agree as the Utes remain to be one of only two three-loss teams in the Top 25.
Speaking of books, let’s get back to the wise words of Dr. Seuss from “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Similar to the current fortunes of Utah’s football team, we all go through difficult times in our lives. They simply cannot be avoided. But what matters is how we respond to adversity. “On and on you will hike. And I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are. . . . So step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. . . . And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed).”
As Utah Jazz Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan was so fond of saying, you can’t play backwards, you have to play forward. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has fully embraced this philosophy himself. I am sure every Ute football player is anxious to get back on the field and be given another chance to prove that they can compete at a high level.
They will get that chance this weekend as Utah travels to Palo Alto, Calif., for a match-up against Stanford. While the Cardinal is still a very good team, this year they are more on par with the Utes than either the Ducks or the Sun Devils. Contrary to what many people thought at the beginning of the season, this is a very winnable game. Hopefully, Utah can once again gain some early momentum, but this time keep it going for the entire game.
Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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