You win some. You lose some. And sometimes, you come up a foot short as the Utes did in their 28-23 loss to Cal on Saturday night.
We can sit here and complain about the refs taking one from Utah, but the Utes had 7 plays inside of the 10 yard line on their final drive and didn't score. Execute and you win the game. Execution all day long on the offensive side of the ball wasn't a strong point in the loss. With JJ Dielman suffering an early game injury, the offense, despite 442 yard, never really looked to be completely in sync. Bad snaps, some sub-par offensive line play, and a lack of explosive plays. Troy Williams was a bit off and his wide receiving corps wasn't at full strength. We saw the breakout game for Raelon Singleton, but the running game didn't get the job done. 3.1 yards per carry against a defense that came in giving up 5.1 per carry isn't acceptable. Part of that is on the line. Part of that is on the backs. Part of that is on Dielman's injury. The explosive play from a back never looked like a possibility despite Cal playing a mostly vanilla defense, and it never came with Utah's longest run being only 13 yards.
The Utes only gave up 28 points to Cal. Sounds like a pretty good performance, and it wasn't bad, but the Bears did that with 17 minutes of possession. That's not exactly a good ratio for Utah. The offense controlled the clock as they had to do, but the Bears ran only 49 plays. They did it at a 7.4 yards per play clip. The offense saved the now beat-up defense from having to defend too much. It's what the Utes needed to do to stay in the game, but it's not as if the Utah defense was dominant. There are holes as Chase Hansen played linebacker for much of the game. The lack of Lowell Lotulelei affects the line as no one is taking up the attention he gets, which affects Utah's ability to get into the backfield. One sack. Only four tackles for loss (and one of those is the sack). Injuries are mounting on defense, and it's starting to become a bit of a problem.
Special teams were severely underwhelming continue to be average. Andy Phillips is hurting as his field goal came up significantly short. The placekicking game is a liability until he's healthy. Wishnowsky put a kickoff out of bounds. Boobie Hobbs scares the crap out of everyone every time he touches the ball on a punt. Will he catch it? Will he run backwards? There are no threats in the kickoff return game. An advantage for so many years has become a wash for the Utes.
Utah wasn't going to go undefeated. They're still a good team, but a losses were coming at some point. Most teams have that game every season where everything goes right. Most teams have that game where everything goes wrong. Most teams lose to a team they shouldn't. Most teams beat a team they shouldn't. Most teams win a thriller. Most teams lose a thriller. The Utes lost their thriller. It happens. Cal made the bigger play at the end of the game, just like Utah made the bigger play at the end of the game a week ago. On the road. Against a team that is better than we though they'd be. Playing without your best defensive lineman and without your starting center. Playing the second half without your best wide receiver and the entire game without your second best wide receiver. By a foot. It's still a loss, but considering all factors, Utah probably shouldn't even have been in that position to begin with. They were though, and there's something admirable in that.
The Pac 12 South is still there to be won, and as long as injuries don't have a severe impact, they're still the team I trust most in the division.With two softer opponents coming up, the Utes should be able to get back on track and build some confidence before they hit the gauntlet stretch in 3 weeks.