Everything was going right Saturday night as the Utes jumped out to a 21-0 lead over Washington State scoring on offense, defense, and special teams in the first quarter. The rout was on and the Cougars couldn't do anything to slow it down. Then, the all-too-familiar Utah meltdown ensued as Wazzu came roaring back when the miscues started piling up culminating wuth an 81 yard touchdown pass from Connor Halliday to Vince Mayle with 4:58 to go that proved to be the decisive score in a 28-27 loss for the Utes.
It's not that Utah lost as there was worry about how they'd slow the vaunted Wazzu passing attack. It's how they lost...again. Miscues adding up and playing not to win. Utah took it's foot off of the gas and did the same thing we saw last year in the shocking comeback by Arizona State. The play calling became vanilla on both sides of the ball once Utah took the lead. The defensive play calling in the first 25 minutes of the game had Utah mixing up their packages, their alignments, their stunts, and their formations. Connor Halliday had no clue what was coming at him, where it was coming from, or what the Utah defense was going to do. It was a maserpiece by Kalani Sitake. Then, they dialed it back. The blitz packages became non-existent and the 4 and 5 man rushes turned into a 3 man rush. Against a QB of Halliday's caliber, you give him time, and he's going to pick apart a young secondary that was missing arguably it's best player in Tevin Carter. The lack of playable depth at the corner and safety position were very apparent as Halliday continued to throw at whoever Orphey was tasked with and true freshman safety Marcus Williams was largely responsible for two Wazzu touchdown passes. In the Pac 12, you can't be running guys like Orphey (who can't cover) or Williams (who isn't ready) out there. That's a failure in recruiting and development.
Offensively, the play calling wasn't terrible, but it didn't work for much of the game as the Utes failed to execute, and Dave Christensen failed to adjust trying to get cute too often instead of just giving the ball to Devontae Booker over and over and over again. With an offensive line that no one has ever called a good pass blocking unit, but many have called an above average run blocking unit, you play to your strengths, especially when you're quarterback has an off-night. Only 24 carries for Booker is a slap in the face considering the way he ran. Sure, he can't pass block, but he doesn't have to pass block when you're handing him the ball. Even when Wazzu knew he was going to get the carry, they failed to slow him more often than not.
Outside of Booker though, the offense looked abysmal. That's two straight weeks of less than stellar execution. This time though, it was downright dreadful. Wilson couldn't hit a receiver, the wide receivers were dropping passes, and the offensive line couldn't slow down a Wazzu pass rush that isn't that imposing. Wilson got rid of the ball, but was generally delivering it into the turf instead of the hands of his receivers. Dres dropped an easy TD late in the game and Tonga had drops that stalled drives. The execution wasn't there. Can't blame the rain as Wazzu was able to move it a ton over the final 40 minutes.
Utah football is starting to look like the series finale of Seinfeld. It starts off well and then comes crashing down after a promising start that leaves everyone confused and disappointed. Were we fooled? Maybe, but not by Utah. We fooled ourselves thinking that the Michigan game was a good win. Its not, as Michigan is now 2-3 after another home loss, this time by 16 to Minnesota. We fooled ourselves into think this offense had turned the corner. They haven't. There are too many issues on the line. We fooled ourselves into thinking this season would be different. It's not. Same old Utah.
Now the schedule really gets ugly starting with a trip to the Rose Bowl against an undefeated and top 10 UCLA team that just pasted a ranked Arizona State on the road by 35 points and has arguably the best quarterback in the country. If Connor Halliday was able to put up that many yards against a gassed Utah's D, what is Brett Hundley going to do? Sean Mannion is a better version of Connor Halliday and Utah has to travel to Oregon State the week after UCLA. The next six games are daunting, and Utah will be an underdog in each and every one of them.
Is Utah football dead? No. Is it time to call for Kyle Whittingham's head? No. We're 4 games in and that's a HUGE overreaction. Utah is exactly where most rational people thought they would be right now at 3-1. We've said over and over that Utah has to be 3-1 at the end of September if they want to go bowling. Well, that's where they are. This isn't over. It's not over until a number 7 lands in the loss column. That said, this has become a pattern, and a bad one. Utah is not holding serve at home and the 'play not to lose' mentality has ripped multiple wins from their hands over the past few years. You'd like to believe that something will change, but what evidence is there to show that it will? Maybe Saturday ends up being a hiccup this year and Utah responds well going forward. Maybe the ending to the Seinfeld finale will be different the next time I watch it too.
Utes Tumble In Shocking Loss to Washington St
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