So close, yet so far away.
Coach Whittingham put it perfectly last week when he said "We are closer than people think we are."
Last night we saw a lot of very positive things, things that showed this team is actually very close to turning the corner and close to turning some of these losses into wins.
But sadly we saw even more things that prove this team is still pretty far away, too.
After seven football games we all know the issues: mental mistakes, penalties, inconsistency in play-calling and starting lineups; these problems aren't new. These types of things are common, even expected during the first few weeks of a season as a team gets it's legs underneath itself; but after seven weeks those things are typically ironed.
This isn't the case for Utah.
Last night, we saw more of the same as the Utes shot themselves in the foot time and time again.
Exhibit A: Utah's 7 penalties for 69 yards are right on par with the season average, proof that something just isn't sinking in with the players. Are the coaches not spending enough time focusing on this problem? Are the players just not listening? Whatever the root of the problem is, a solution has yet to be found.
Utah's play-calling was good, at times even great - especially when the Utes were between the 20's. Once the team hit the redzone? Well, we all saw what happened. Brian Johnson continues to draw criticism because of very questionable calls in important situations. We all remember the 3rd quarter first-and-goal series. The fourth-quarter quarterback draw on 3rd and 8. There are certain situations in games when the margin for error (already very slim) becomes razor thin. There are no excuses for some of the things we saw last night.
Who knows, maybe this team has hit it's invisible ceiling. Personally I think Utah's best football is still to come. But until these issues are addressed and SOLVED Utah's chances at a bowl game will just continue to slip further and further away...
On a positive note, Utah outplayed the #8 team in the country for the majority of the night. That's a very big positive.
The Utes truly looked like they belonged at times and probably should have had a lead in the game late in the second half. Travis Wilson took another step, a big step it seemed, and looked at times like he has the tools to be a very good quarterback for many years to come. He was a leader on the field and made some throws that some 4th-year seniors have a hard time making. He has improved after just two starts and that's very promising.
So at the end of the day it's clear the team is getting better; Kyle Whittingham may not have been far off with his quote. But for every step forward his team has taken over the past few weeks, they've stayed static in some of the most important areas – the areas where his team is failing the most.
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