Sometimes the hardest games to swallow are the ones where you play well and still don’t come away with a win. That was the case on Saturday afternoon as the Utes fell 31-24 to the Huskies of Washington at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
It was a battle from the outset that turned into a game of runs and momentum that ended with a punt return touchdown for the Huskies and an odd set of play calling by the Utes.
I’m not exactly sure what Aaron Roderick was thinking by putting the ball in the hands of a true freshman wide receiver at the end of the game to try to get a pass completed when the kid didn’t play receiver in high school. With how well the Utes were running the ball, with the amount of time on the clock, and with three time outs, there’s no reason to run a trick play that was designed to get you no more than 8 yards. There’s too much risk and you’re burning a down. On the final offensive play of the game, go routes by the receivers into a prevent defense is essentially a hail mary if you can’t get the ball off in under 2.5 seconds. Troy Williams needs to get that thing out quicker. It’s 4th down. Take a chance with a throw, because extending it with your legs makes it a jump ball hail mary situation with your receivers outnumbered by defensive backs. The play call wasn’t ideal. The execution was poor. I just don’t get it.
Troy Williams has to be thankful that October is over. This has not been his best month, and his receivers didn’t help him out today with a plethora of drops. Without Cory Butler-Bird out there, it looked like the Utah passing game we’ve seen too often in recent years. Joe Williams was a monster again and the offensive line was pretty good, but the false starts are killers against a team like Washington.
My hat is off to the pass defense today. They made Jake Browning look average today throwing the ball. My hat is also off to the pass rush today. While they didn’t get home a ton for sacks, Browning was flushed out a lot. He was efficient when he did (was probably his strength today), but the defensive line mostly did their job in slowing the pass. Unfortunately, they didn’t slow the run today as Myles Gaskin and company ate them up with a combination of stretch plays on bursts off of pulling guards. It looks a lot worse than maybe it really is as well when your linebackers appear to have covered their hands in Vaseline before the game. Sunia Tauteoli must have missed 5 or 6 by himself. Way too many missed tackles again this week, and neither Chase Hansen nor Jordan Fogal were exempt this week either. They played well in stopping the pass and Fogal had a few TD saving tackles, but there were missed tackles on too many occasions.
Special teams were good today….until they weren’t. Mitch Wishnowsky did his thing and helped the Utes win the field position battle and the execution on Utah’s kick at the end of the first half is one of those things that you don’t notice in the box score, but was huge at the time. The punt return at the end of the game did have multiple missed blocks in the back by the officials, but at this point, I’m just expecting them to miss every call. Utah could have made one of the 4 or 5 tackles that they missed on that play and the touchdown never would have happened. Don’t leave your fate in the hands of Pac 12 officials. That’s the lesson.
This team won’t die. Even with the loss today, they didn’t. They went down swinging with one of their best efforts of the season against a team that is one of the top groups in the country. There’s no shame in that. There are no moral victories, and this one stings for the players, coaches, and fans, but Utah brought it today and played a good game. Washington was just a bit better. Against a team as good as the Huskies are, sometimes good isn’t good enough.