It was about to be 14-0...and then it wasn't. With Kaelin Clay's monumental gaffe in dropping the ball short of the goal line on a surefire touchdown, and Oregon returning it 100 yards for a touchdown, Utah's chances at an upset of the 4th ranked team in the country went South as the Ducks and the ball went North.
It was an opportunity unlike any Utah would get again as the game was never the same in Utah's 51-27 loss. There were periods of success for the Utes, but when every single break, every single bounce, every single logical thing seemed to favor the Ducks, all opportunities must be capitalized on. Would Utah have knocked off the Ducks had Clay walked another 4 feet into the end zone before dropping the ball to the turf? There's no way to know. We never will. Against a team like Oregon that can, and did, score quickly and often, a 14-0 lead often means very little. That said, Utah had all the momentum, all of the confidence, and the Ducks were on the ropes and looking lost. ALL of that changed in 15 seconds. Clay felt and feels as bad as anyone about what happened. There's no need to pile on. Both he and Whittingham took the blame. It won't happen again.
What a tremendous performance by the defense for much of the game. That may sound odd considering Oregon scored 51 points, but 48 of those came in the 2nd and 4th quarters when the D looked gas trying to hang with the Oregon speed and tempo. They wore down at the end of each half and don't have the depth to shuffle guys in and out, especially in the back 7, and it showed. Against a guy like Mariota, you can only chase him around the field for so long before you've got nothing left in the tank. They bent but didn't break when they had the energy, holding a team that almost refuses to kick field goals to 3 field goal attempts (all makes). That energy won't be a problem next season when many of the young guys are ready to contribute thanks to some solid Pac 12 defensive recruiting depth.
The passing game bounced back for periods of the game as Wilson made plays when he knew there were no other options than to pass and take risks. As we said last week, that's when Wilson can thrive. It's unfortunate that Thompson went down with an injury, but now Wilson can play with more confidence knowing that he won't be replaced if he throws a pick or makes a mistake. He no longer has anyone breathing down his neck to possibly take his spot. A loose Travis Wilson is a better Travis Wilson. On the flip side, opposing teams now know who the QB is going to be each week from now on. Can Wilson beat teams that only have to game plan for him? Dave Christensen called a pretty good game, mixing things up and letting Wilson get more aggressive. The middle of the field was open for much of the night, and when it was used, there was success. They'll need to go that direction more often going forward.
So Utah lost to the 4th ranked team in the country with arguably the best quarterback they've faced since joining the Pac 12. The Utes turned it over 4 times, had their starting quarterback leave with an injury, got only 65 yards rushing out of their all american caliber back, dropped a ball at the 1 yard line, Andy Phillips missed a field goal that would have pulled them to within a score in the 4th quarter, gave up 2 big punt returns, came up a yard short on a fake punt, and still hung with Oregon for 55 minutes. Things that generally don't happen to this team happened last night. It's hard to knock off a team that good when you can't catch a break. Credit to the Utes for putting up a valiant effort.
The question that stands now is whether or not the Utes can rebound after the loss. Will the lost opportunity and how it all unfolded break this team? We've seen them rebound before, both this season and in the past, but with the injuries piling up and with two very difficult opponents coming up, this team is at a crossroad. With the 6-1 start now just a memory, a strong finish to the season (probably a minimum of 2-1) could end up determining whether or not this year is deemed successful both within the program and by the fan base.
Utes Drop Ball. Ducks Drop Utes
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