Typically, in life, things come full circle. What goes around comes around, as the saying goes. Two weeks' worth of build-up and hype had a standing-room-only crowd fired up for the first ever Pac-12 game in Rice-Eccles Stadium. But from the opening kick it was clear this was going to be a difficult game for the Utes to win.
From the beginning the signs were there: Utah was in for a long night. The Utes were bitten by the turnover bug, losing the ball time after time constantly killing drives and scoring chances. The opening kick return was fumbled by Ryan Lacy and the ball bounced perfectly into the hands of Husky Jamaal Kearse as he trotted into the endzone for the games' first score. Nine seconds into the game and the Utes were trailing 6-0. 5 turnovers and 60 minutes later the game mercifully ended and the Utes fell to 0-2 in the Pac-12 and 2-2 on the season.
Two weeks ago the Utes looked very good, almost unbeatable. Utah forced 7 turnovers in their last game and blew out the Cougars on the road 54-10. This week, the story was much the same only the Utes were the team giving the ball away. The stats were eerily similar as well. Weeks ago John White IV rushed for 174 yards. Tonight it was Washington running back Chris Polk running free, finishing with 197. Weeks ago Utah's offense commanded the clock and managed the game beautifully. Tonight the Husky offense dominated the line of scrimmage and, especially in the second half, moved the ball almost at-will.
The team with so much promise and potential just two short weeks ago is now back to square-one and then some.
Quarterback Jordan Wynn, Utah's most indispensible player, left the game at halftime with a left-arm injury and would not return. At that point in a 10-7 game any hope of a comeback was all but lost. Backup quarterback Jon Hays replaced Wynn, went 10-16 for 156 yards and threw a late touchdown pass but it was too little too late for the Utes, the damage had already been done.
Washington deserves all the credit, too. They played very aggressively on both sides of the ball and dictated the tempo all night. They caused each one of Utah's five turnovers, there were no gifts. They made plays all over the field and when Utah's quarterback went down in a tight game, they made sure they slammed the door shut behind him.
On offense, the Huskies dominated the line of scrimmage. In the run game the offensive line was extremely physical with the Utah defenders. They opened holes, got to the second level, and allowed Chris Polk to run wild. Polk ran hard between the tackles, broke what seemed like hundreds of arm tackles, and got to the outside for a few big runs as well. The pass game for UW was very similar. Quarterback Keith Price was able to comfortably stay in the pocket and find receivers all over the field. The few times that his pocket broke down he was able to escape and scramble for good yardage.
Price completed passes to 8 eight different players while throwing for 226 yards and 3 touchdowns.
At the end of the day, Washington was the better team. Much, much better.
Utah, on the other hand, had problems that started on the first play of the game. Fumbling the opening kickoff is never a good way for a game to begin, but trailing by a touchdown after 9 seconds have been played is even worse.
The Utes hung in there after that big mistake, though. Initially, anyway. Wynn threw a beautiful pass to Devonte Christopher along the sideline on Utah's second possession that nearly went for a long touchdown. Later on in the same drive Wynn threw a 16-yard dart to Dres Anderson in the endzone and the Utes were back in it. The defense was still fresh, was containing both Polk and Price, and Wynn was picking the Husky defense apart.
Two first-half drives, though, defined the game for the Utes.
The first came after Utah linebacker J.J. Williams intercepted Keith Price. The Utes quickly moved the ball into scoring position at the 13 yard line, but then Wynn made a bad read on a post route to DeVonte Christopher in the end zone that was intercepted by the Huskies. The Husky safety sat on an inside zone and Christopher was running a post route behind him. Wynn didn't see the defender and threw the ball right to him, ending Utah's potential scoring chance.
Utah held Washington to a punt, though, and once again marched down the field. This time Wynn found receiver Dres Anderson at the ten yard line. Anderson cut inside and fought for extra yardage near the goal line but was stripped of the ball before being tackled.
Two potential scores resulted in zero points and eventually the Huskies capitalized.
In the second half Washington made adjustments that the Utes couldn't counter and the game quickly slipped away. The Huskies scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives in the second half which put their slim halftime lead quickly out of reach.
Utah's biggest problem, aside from the turnovers, was the play of the lines. The offensive line, and left tackle John Cullen in particular, had a difficult night getting a consistent push and protecting Wynn from the heavy pressure brought by the Husky defense. Wynn took way too many hits in the first half which eventually led to his injured left shoulder and halftime replacement. The line was also responsible for multiple stupid penalties which stalled drives. The defensive line was pushed around in the second half, giving up 197 total yards to Chris Polk and never threatening Keith Price in the backfield.
It doesn't get any easier for the Utes either. Current South-Division leader Arizona State comes to town next Saturday in a game many thought could determine who would be the Division Champion. Now, at 0-2 in conference play, the Utes just hope to avoid getting run off the field at home in back-to-back weeks.
Without Jordan Wynn, it could be a long remainder of the season for the Utes. The next three games on the schedule don't give Utah any kind of break and if Wynn misses extended time beyond that they'll likely struggle to be bowl eligible. But let's not look too far ahead. One game at a time, as the coaches say. Starting with this coming Saturday afternoon the Utes will need to come up with a stellar game plan and will need to clean up their turnovers and penalties if they want to have a chance. Beyond that, without Wynn what happens with this team is anyone's guess.
Backup quarterback Jon Hays was 10-16 for 156 yds and a touchdown in the second half after coming in for Wynn.
DeVonte Christopher was once again a bright spot for the Utes. Christopher finished with 5 catches for 125 yards and surpassed the 100-yard mark for the second time in three games.
Utah's first half was much better than the final score indicates. The defense held Washington to just 3 offensive points and made many big plays. The offense moved the ball effectively and, if not for two turnovers inside the Washington 10 yard line, the score could have been comfortably in Utah's favor at the half.
Five turnovers will always be enough to get you beat. Utah trailed just nine seconds into the game and finished with two interceptions and three fumbles. The Utes had almost no chance in this one from the very start.
Two turnovers in the first half inside the 10 yard line really hurt. Scoring chances in the Pac-12 don't come easy and to give them away like the Utes did dramatically changed the game.
Utah's offensive line, and John Cullen in particular, had a very forgettable night. Cullen was often beat off the ball and completely missed his assignments multiple times throughout the game. His bad play disrupted the Utah run game and resulted in many hits taken by quarterbacks Wynn and Hays.
Utah's second half defense was just plain bad. Chris Polk ran through countless arm-tackles on his way to nearly 200 yards rushing. Sarkisian had the defense confused and guessing all throughout the third and fourth quarters resulting in tired players, missed assignments, blown coverages, and Husky touchdowns.
Utah's run game was pitiful against the Huskies. The Utes finished with just 17 rush yards on 23 attempts for a 0.7 yard per carry average. John White finished with just 35 yards on 14 carries after entering the game averaging over 120 yards per game.
Losing quarterback Jordan Wynn at halftime was the realization of Ute fans' biggest fear. We knew Utah was thin at some positions, but none more than at quarterback. There was no official announcement about Wynn's injury after the game and the details still remain vague. He is expected to be evaluated further on Monday, but after the game Coach Whittingham said "I don't want to speculate, but it doesn't look good."
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