Could have, should have, would have – not what you want to say
As last week the Ute offense did not come to play
Leaving the Utes to ponder the age old question
And wondering forevermore what might have been.
COMMENTARY – Expectations are typically fairly low when your team has lost three in a row and is going on the road to play an undefeated team currently ranked eighth in the nation. Now I am not under the illusion that a single person consistently reads this column on a weekly basis. However, if you did happen to catch last week’s column, you will recall that I had more or less conceded a Utah loss to Oregon State while holding out hope the Utes would fare better in the final five games of the season. In all honesty, the loss to Oregon State would have been easier to swallow if Oregon State had actually beaten the Utes. Instead, the Utes simply beat themselves and gift-wrapped the win for the Beavers.
Utah led Oregon State in virtually all statistical categories – 19 first downs to the Beavers 15; 135 yards rushing with the Beavers netting only 52; 307 yards in total offense compared to 226; 34:27 in time of possession to 25:33. The Utes also had a slightly better conversion rate on third down and Utah converted 2 of 4 fourth-down tries. In contrast, Oregon State only topped Utah in two major statistics, but they were the difference in the game. Oregon State won the turnover battle 3-0, and the final score was 21-7.
Although I pretend to be a columnist once a week, the rest of the time I am an attorney. In assisting clients with their estate plans, I am getting very good at playing the “What If?” game. What if you, your spouse and all of your children go down in the same fiery plane crash while on a family vacation? What if your surviving spouse marries a trophy wife or boy toy after your demise? What if you are otherwise comatose and non-responsive, but your heartbeat still quickens and your blood pressure rises every time the Utes score a touchdown?
I found myself playing the “What If?” game last week as I lay in bed agonizing over the Utes debacle in Corvallis. What if John White had actually caught the swing pass with nothing but green grass in front of him? What if DeVonte Christopher had controlled the pitch to him with the entire Beaver defense flowing in the opposite direction? What if Utah hadn’t given up the ball not once, but twice, inside its own 20-yard line?
We are certainly learning more and more about what this Utah team is and is not. We have learned that John White does much better when someone hands him the ball instead of throwing it to him in space. On the other hand, we have learned that DeVonte Christopher is much better catching the ball downfield than taking a pitch in the backfield.
We have learned that Travis Wilson is better suited to throw the ball than run it. We have learned that, as good as the Utah defense is, they can’t win the game all by themselves without a little bit of help from the offense.
We are about to learn whether this team has any heart. Earlier in the season I was convinced the biggest issue facing the Utes was a gap in talent and depth between the Utes and the majority of the Pac-12. I have now changed my mind – I think the single biggest issue facing the Utes right now is a lack of execution and mental lapses. When a team fails to execute on a wholesale basis, the blame lies as much at the feet of the coaches as it does the feet of the players.
I’ve been fairly tough on the Utah defense the past few weeks, but not this week. Now granted, if the defense had run back an interception for a touchdown and had added a fumble recovery for a score, it would have been a different game. I’m not going to ask that much of a unit that otherwise played very, very well. It also would have been a very different game if our offense could have capitalized on its own golden opportunities to score, or at the very least had not coughed up the ball three times. Bryan Johnson, I have a single, simple request – please, no more quarterback draws in the red zone. Notwithstanding all of the above, the Utes are still exactly where I thought they would be a week ago – 0-4 in the Pac-12. Fortunately, Utah’s schedule softens up somewhat in the coming weeks.
Utah has its annual blackout game at home this Saturday against Cal. By no means is this game a gimme, but it is winnable. The Bears have been somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde team themselves this year. I’m just hoping that the weekend before Halloween brings out the Jekyll in them (wait a minute, maybe I have that backward, perhaps we would be better off with mild-mannered Hyde instead of a wild and unpredictable Jekyll).
The Utes must win four of their last five games to be bowl eligible. That is still very doable.
Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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