Glass half-empty or glass half-full, what do fans have to say?
I’ll take the results of this season almost any day
The direction of the program has seen a major shift
The football team this year gave fans an early Christmas gift
COMMENTARY — Even after Utah’s loss to Arizona at home last Saturday, I’m still a glass-half-full guy when it comes to this gritty football squad. From my perspective, the Utes are already playing with house money and anything that happens from this point forward is only icing on the cake.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, Utah has already exceeded expectations this year. At the beginning of the season, talking heads and fans alike were all wondering if the Utes could even squeeze six wins out of such a difficult schedule. A 6-6 season and getting back to a bowl game, any bowl game, would have been viewed as a successful season.
If you had told me at the beginning of the year that Utah would be 7-4 with one game left to play against Colorado, I would have been turning cartwheels and elated beyond description. Now that we have come to that point in the season, my attitude hasn’t changed one bit (although a bad back and a myriad of other maladies have prevented me from doing any celebratory cartwheels).
“There’s been a lot of positives in this season regardless of what happens in this last game,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “There are a lot of things we’ve gotten better at — playing on the road, playing toe-to-toe with the heavyweights of the conference.”
Could the Utes have possibly won one two more games if only one or two plays in each game lost had gone differently? Absolutely! However, a different outcome in just one or two plays of many of the wins could have also resulted in one or more losses as well. When all has been said and done, no truly sane fan could realistically hope for anything better than 7-4 for Utah at this point in the season.
Arizona definitely exposed, and took advantage of, some of the Utes’ weaknesses. Most notably was the lack of offensive production, which has been a common theme in many games this year. If you throw out the first two games against Idaho State and Fresno State, Utah has averaged 23.2 points per game. However, when you take out the 26 points scored in overtimes (in which the offense starts each possession at the 25-yard line), that per game average drops to 20.3 points. If you go one step further and take out the 35 points scored by defense and special teams, then the Utes’ offense is only averaging 16.4 points per game.
The fact that Utah is still 5-4 in games against Power 5 conference opponents (many of which have been nationally-ranked teams) even though the Utes’ offense has only scored an average of 16.4 points per game in regulation, borders on being downright miraculous and is a testament to how well Utah’s outstanding defense has played this year.
The weakest link in Utah’s offense continues to be inconsistent (and sometimes poor) play at the quarterback position. The Utes simply have not had consistently good play from their quarterback since Brian Johnson graduated after the 2008 Sugar Bowl.
Travis Wilson still has a year of eligibility left, but if Utah is going to improve its standing in the Pac-12, I don’t think Wilson is the man for the job. At this point, it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that Wilson will start this week against Colorado, and again in the season-ending bowl game, but it remains to be seen if he is the starting quarterback again next year. I just wish Kyle Whittingham was as willing to make a change in his starting quarterback as he has been in making a change in his offensive coordinator (and I’d like to see a little more stability in the merry-go-round of offensive coordinators we have seen for the past seven years).
Nevertheless, I still don’t want to get too down on Whittingham, Wilson or the Ute football team as a whole. Regardless of what happens in the last two games, this year has been an unqualified success, and the program is headed in the right direction.
Speaking of programs heading in the right direction, have you seen what Larry Krystkowiak has done with the Runnin’ Utes basketball team? Krystkowiak inherited a squad that had gone 13-18 in the prior year, with virtually anyone even resembling a quality player having transferred before Krystkowiak took over the team. In the coach’s first year, Utah posted a 6-25 record. The next year the team improved to 15-18, followed by a 21-12 campaign in which the Runnin’ Utes made a brief appearance in the NIT.
This year, Krystkowiak has completely restocked the cupboard with dynamic players, and Utah started the season ranked nationally in the Top 25. Nobody can complain that the Runnin’ Utes are playing a weak schedule either. Utah’s non-conference schedule includes games against San Diego State, Wichita State, BYU, Kansas and UNLV.
It appears that Ute fans are on the verge of experiencing a renaissance on The Hill with a resurgence of both the football and the basketball teams. While each program has had its day in the past, I can’t ever remember having strong football and basketball programs at the same time.
This week, the football team concludes the regular season on the road against Colorado, and the basketball teams hosts Texas-Pan American, North Dakota and Alabama State in a holiday tournament that will give fans three Runnin’ Utes home games in four days.
Yes, Utah fans truly have many things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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