For the fourth time since entering the Pac 12 conference, the Utes entered a late season game with their fate in their hands to win the south, and for the fourth time, they fell short. In heartbreaking fashion, Oregon nipped Utah with a touchdown pass with 2 seconds remaining at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday by a score of 30 to 28. The loss knocks Utah out of contention for the Pac 12 South title.
This one may end up hurting the most as the loss was against a poor Oregon team, at home, on senior day, with a senior laden team, a week after they put up arguably their best performance of the season, in a down Pac 12 South.
We can pick apart the performance on Saturday with what went right and what went wrong. We can blame the play calling in the second half when they went away from an overly effective Joe Williams, deciding to pass 8 times in an 11 play stretch with the lead while Williams was picking up yardage with ease. We can blame (again) the lack of flow in the play calling that doesn’t allow the offense to find a rhythm. We can blame the awful tackling from the linebackers again, but at this point, that’s on the coaches. They’re the ones putting the same kids out there that are physically overmatched every single week. They’re the ones that didn’t recruit the position effectively enough to replace to have a single linebacker that should be starting in the Pac 12. They’re the ones that didn’t coach up the talent at the position, while other position groups all seemed to have made strides this year. We can blame the cornerbacks, who were beaten time and time again by a freshman QB who was missing some of his top targets. We can blame the weird timeout management at the end of the first half. We can blame the red zone woes. We can blame the lack of shots down the field against a VERY young Oregon secondary. We can blame the refs. We can blame the fans. We can blame the weather. We can blame the president-elect. The only thing that matters though, is that Utah lost, to a bad team, and let their Pac 12 titles dream slip through their hands.
The dream, is now dead. The opportunity, may not return for years. This was the one. This was the year. This was the time for Utah to take that next step. They caught USC at just the right time. UCLA was missing their future 1st round NFL QB. Arizona is on the verge of posting their first winless conference season since joining the conference in 1980. Arizona State has arguably the worst defense in the country and needed a non-conference schedule softer than a pillow to get to a bowl game (assuming they beat Arizona). There is no reason that Utah shouldn’t be playing Colorado next weekend for the right to represent the South in the conference tittle game. Absolutely NONE.
Now, with the Utes losing 3 to 4 of their starting offensive lineman, two of their starting wide receivers, their starting tight end, their starting running back, 3 of their 4 starting defensive linemen, their top 3 cornerbacks, their starting nickleback, their all american free safety, their all conference kicker, and their four year starting long snapper, next year looks far from promising. In short, the Utes won’t be as good next season. USC now looks like a juggernaut again, Arizona, Arizona State, and UCLA can’t possibly be as bad as they’ve been this year in 2017. Maybe Colorado takes a step back, but they’ve recruited at a decent level the last two years. 2017 isn’t the year. 2016 was the year.
I don’t want to overreact to one loss against an inferior team. It happens. It shouldn’t, but it does, and it did. That’s not the totality of the issue here. The issue for Ute fans is that this keeps happening in November. And with with how the league shaped up this season and is shaping going forward, who knows when Utah will get this opportunity again. As Kyle Whittingham says every single week, ‘we’ve got to execute.’ Utah didn’t, and for some reason, they don’t when the Pac 12 South title is at stake. Until they do, we’ll see you in Vegas.