The season didn't begin smoothly for Coleman Peterson. Fall camp saw Utah's kicking game struggle mightily and when the season began there wasn't a clear-cut starter at kicker. The first few weeks of the season were up and down, but Peterson eventually took advantage of opportunities given to him and he solidified himself as the go-to guy by week 3.
It's a good thing too because Utah has needed his foot on multiple occasions this year, none more important than the game-winner in overtime yesterday afternoon in Pullman. After hitting field goals of 33 and 45 yards earlier in the game, Peterson was called on to hit a 38 yard kick in sideways snow with ice and slush on the field, and it couldn't have been hit any better.
Peterson's kick was good and the Utes found a way to win their first game of the season decided by less than 9 points and earned their 7th game of a very up-and-down year. With just one game to go, 8 wins on the season is a real possibility when just 4 weeks ago it seemed like 5 wins would be a struggle.
This was an interesting game. From start to finish it looked and felt every bit like the losses to Washington, Arizona State, and Cal where turnovers and mistakes were rampant. When the Utes weren't killing themselves with penalties or fumbles the defense was inexplicably bad allowing Washington State to drive time after time for scores. But just when it seemed like it wasn't Utah's night, the Utes caught a break and Peterson pulled victory from the jaws of defeat.
In the first half it was the offense doing its best to sabotage every drive. Penalties were the biggest drive killer, but poor execution, missed assignments, and a horrid pass game halted any progress Utah tried to make early in the game.
It took a trick play on a fake punt, something Utah has almost become famous for, to finally put points on the board. With just 1:47 left in what had been a scoreless half up to that point punter Sean Sellwood found Luke Matthews wide open on a fake punt pass and Matthews ran 49 yards for the game's first score.
With a 7-0 lead and 1:41 remaining on the clock it seemed Utah was destined to take their lead to the locker room. But what would turn out to be a sign of things to come Utah's typically stout defense gave up a 77 yard drive in just over a minute and a game that had been scoreless for the first 28 minutes was suddenly tied 7-7.
In the second half things flipped upside down for Utah. The offense that had been full of mistakes and that couldn't seem to pick up even a simple first down in the first two quarters was suddenly clicking on all cylinders. Jon Hays emerged from the locker room and started hitting his open receivers, which in turn opened up the field for John White who exploded in the second half on his way to 186 yards rushing.
The defense, however, looked about as bad as they've looked all season. Utah needed just one stop in the final three Washington State offensive series to all but end the game, which didn't seem like too tall a task for the defense that we've been applauding all season for its stellar play. Yet on consecutive possessions the Cougars were allowed to drive 47, 74, and 74 yards resulting in two touchdowns and the game-tying field goal as time expired. If any of those drives are stopped, the game is ended in regulation and not overtime.
Utah kept finding ways to answer though, so credit the Utes for that. They overcame the stupid mistakes, the penalties, the fumbles, the porous 4th quarter defense, and they still found a way to win which is a credit to this team and how far they've come since early October. Five weeks ago the Utes lose this game. Today they've become much stronger mentally and are now able to brush aside mistakes and step up their level of play when needed.
I questioned the decision to send Utah's defense out onto the field first in overtime. I know the odds and the logic behind the choice say defense first is best, but after getting absolutely gashed on three straight possessions, nearly losing the game in regulation on a play that probably should have been reviewed but was not, and just barely walking off the field after giving up the game-tying field goal it seemed like if any moment ever called for an offense-first possession, this was it.
But that's why Kyle Whittingham is coaching and I am not. The same defense that nearly lost the game for the Utes stepped up, just like the offense did in the second half, and they finally forced Washington State to make a mistake. The fourth time is the charm, I guess. Mo Lee's interception all but sealed the win for the Utes and ended a game that I'm sure every single player and coach was just happy to see end.
The only thing left for Utah was the field goal, and Coleman Peterson was true.
Going forward, Utah has as much to play for this week as it ever has. Okay, a BCS bowl game isn't on the line, but considering the way this year has played out the opportunity to finish 8-4 and who knows, maybe play in the Pac-12 Championship game is a pretty amazing opportunity for this team considering where they were just over four weeks ago.
If you didn't stay up late last night then you may have missed the outcome of the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry game. Well if you haven't heard by now you must be living under a rock because it's pretty big news for all Ute fans. With Arizona upsetting Arizona State last night, Utah's door the Pac-12 Championship game was nudged open a little bit more. Things still need to fall in place, but stranger things have happened before and the odds of Utah making it today are much greater than they were yesterday morning. Here's what needs to happen:
The division tie breaker is broken out like this (per the Pac-12) – Head to head record, division record, then record against the next highest ranked division team. Currently UCLA sits at 5-3 in conference while Utah and Arizona State are 4-4, which means UCLA holds the cards here. If they win, they're in. If they lose, they open the door for chaos which is exactly what Utah fans want.
Utah needs to beat Colorado no matter what. If the Utes win and UCLA loses, both teams will finish with a 5-4 conference record. Arizona State then becomes the wildcard. If ASU wins, they will also finish 5-4 and Utah is eliminated on head to head. If ASU loses (and finishes 4-5 in conference) Utah would advance over UCLA based on head to head win. Get it? I hope your head isn't ready to explode.
The bottom line is this – Utah needs to win on Friday and needs both UCLA and Arizona State to lose. Any other scenario and the Utes are eliminated from contention. But like I said earlier, stranger things have happened.
I was very vocal after the loss to Cal about Utah's ability to win six games this season. Every writer needs to eat his words every now and then and I'm glad to say I'm eating mine. All things considered this has been Kyle Whittingham's greatest head coaching job of his career in my opinion and that includes 2008's undefeated season. With as many as four teams in the Pac-12 replacing head coaches this upcoming offseason, Utah fans should consider themselves lucky to have the coach and staff that they do. Utah football is in very good hands for many years to come.
Game WrapUp - Utah at Washington State
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