At the end of the 2012 season, I asked Kyle Whittingham one simple question.
"Other than the losses and missing a bowl game, what's the most disappointing thing about this season?"
His answer was quick, deliberate and not what I was expecting.
"Our inability to generate turnovers on defense," said a frustrated Whittingham, "specifically our inability to get interceptions."
A year later, interceptions are at the heart of a difficult and now bowl-less journey for the Utes. The Washington State game played out as a microcosm of symptoms that have plagued the Utes throughout the 2013 season.
Ultimately this game came down to interceptions. Utah's starting quarterback Adam Schulz had a terrible start throwing two pick sixes that turned a 7-0 WSU advantage into a 21-0 hole in an instant and proved to be the difference that handed the Utes their fifth loss in a row.
But offensive interceptions weren't the only issue. Coming into the game, Wazzu's starting quarterback Connor Halliday had thrown at least one interception in each game this season while the Utah defense had only produced a paltry two picks all season long.
Something had to give and unfortunately for the Utes, it went Halliday's way as he completed 39 of his 62 attempts for 488 yards and four touchdowns. Utah's defense had several chances to turn the tide of the game or even slow down the Wazzu passing attack by intercepting tipped or bad passes from Halliday, but unlike Utah's opponents this year, Utah couldn't capitalize. Those failed interceptions kept the WSU drives alive and eventually translated into points the Utes couldn't afford to give.
In short, the Utah secondary was torched by Halliday and struggled to get WSU off the field at times. Utah's defensive scheme was completely focused on stopping the pass where the Utes routinely dropped eight men into coverage, leaving only three to rush the passer.
Utah's vaunted and nation's best pass rush was held "sack-less" as Halliday had plenty of time to pick apart the Utah defense with 39 completions.
As for Utah's offense, after the two pick sixes, they valiantly battled back to a point where the Utes were only down by just six, but when it counted, the defense couldn't hold, the offense couldn't convert and a chance for a bowl slipped away.
While this season has been perhaps the toughest in recent memory, it's safe to say that this team has progressed and gotten better. Unfortunately for Utah, they haven't progressed as fast as their Pac-12 competition which some rate as the strongest in the country.
For now, one thing is for sure, with the Utes completing their second losing season in a row, there will be much soul searching amongst this staff and team as they struggle to find answers and what it takes to do more than just compete at the Pac-12 level.
Utah's Pac-12 woes continue at Washington St.
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