Bleeding Red: Beautiful defensive performance not enough for Utes

Running out of time
One TD at least
Scoring only nine
Losing’s such a beast

COMMENTARY — First of all, kudos to the Tuacahn Amphitheatre and the wonderful production they did of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast that just wrapped up last month.

Utah has certainly been both beautiful and beastly this year depending on the game. In fact, last weekend against UCLA we saw both sides of the Utes — a beautiful effort by the defense, contrasted with a beastly job on offense.

utesAnytime Utah can hold a Pac-12 team to 17 points or less, especially a high powered Bruins offense that has averaged more than 33 points per game and hasn’t scored less than 23 points in any other game this year, the Ute defense has done its job.

However, Utah’s offense simply had its worst effort of the entire season. Prior to the UCLA game, the Utes were also averaging more than 33 points per game, had never scored less than 24 points in any one game, and had scored at least three touchdowns in every other game this season. Against the Bruins, Utah never made it to the end zone and had to settle for three field goals and nine measly points.

Coincidentally, both the Utes and the Bruins had three scores each, but two of UCLA’s scores were touchdowns. Kyle Whittingham once again reaffirmed the old adage: “You can’t win kicking only field goals,” he said. “They were more efficient in the red zone than we were and that was the difference in the game.”

Utah Scoring 11 games (1)I thought the absence of the explosive Devontae Booker would have an impact on Utah’s offense. I just never imagined it would be as dramatic of an impact as we witnessed last Saturday. I still don’t understand why there was that big of a drop-off without Booker in the game.

The Utes scored 40 touchdowns in their first 10 games, with Booker being involved with 10 of those touchdowns (nine rushing touchdowns, and one passing touchdown to Britain Covey). So Booker has had a hand in 25 percent of Utah’s touchdowns. But 75 percent of the Utes’ touchdowns have not been scored by Booker. Admittedly, Booker may have been involved in setting up other touchdowns, but the same could be said of the rest of the team in setting up rushing touchdowns for Booker.

Utah TouchdownsIn describing the overall performance of Utah’s offense last Saturday, and the direct impact of the loss to UCLA on the Utes’ season as a whole, I think a song by Daryl Hall & John Oates sums it up best—“Missed Opportunity.”

In light of Utah’s history over the course of Kyle Whittingham’s tenure as head coach, I wonder who the new offensive coordinator for the Utes will be next year?

Phil Dunphy has some interesting, but eerily accurate, views as part of his “Phil’s-osophies.” One of them is: “When life gives you lemonade, make lemons, life will be all like ‘what’?

In fact, life had given Utah some ready-made lemonade last Saturday as Oregon ended up beating USC, which means that if the Utes had beaten the Bruins, then Utah would have controlled its own destiny and a win over Colorado would have guaranteed the Utes a berth in the Pac-12 championship game. Instead, Utah took that lemonade and turned it back into lemons with a crippling loss to UCLA that finally ended any hope of the Utes playing for the Pac-12 championship (and a berth in the Rose Bowl, much to the chagrin of my daughter, Chayne).

However, what’s done is done, there’s no use crying over spilled milk, and we have to look forward not backward.

The fact remains that Utah is bowl eligible, and wins over Colorado and their bowl game opponent would still give the Utes a 10-3 record capping off their most successful campaign since joining the Pac-12.

Utah ends the regular season with a home game against Colorado on Saturday with a 12:30 p.m. kickoff. Even though the Buffaloes only have a single conference win over Oregon State, just two weeks ago they tested USC, which barely escaped Boulder with a three-point win.

“It’s our last home game, last regular season game, senior day,” Whittingham said. “We’ll say goodbye to a great group of seniors — the primary group that entered this league with us, and been through this Pac-12 journey and helped us progress throughout these last five years, so we’ll miss them. We’ll send them off, hopefully, the right way, with a victory.”

In Utah’s first year in the Pac-12, all the Utes had to do was beat Colorado at home and they would have represented the South in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. Instead, the Buffaloes upset the Utes on The Hill. Utah has won three straight vs. the Buffs since then.

This week at his Monday press conference, Whittingham had one point he wanted make clear and it made for an interesting end to the press conference:

“We’ll never blame the players in this program, ever,” he said. “It’s not on the players. Our guys are playing hard. There’s never been a question at all about their toughness, their effort, their accountability. They’re playing their guts out every week, from start to finish.”

So Ute Nation, at this time of Thanksgiving, let us focus on and be thankful for the many positives that have come out of Utah’s season this year, including a return trip to a bowl game.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, the Runnin’ Utes are already five games into their season, with a 4-1 record. The only loss came to a tough Miami team in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last weekend. They certainly do not have a cream puff schedule this year as the upcoming stretch features tough contests every other game, including BYU, Wichita State and Duke.

Here’s hoping that Utah can finish strong, including another bowl victory (perhaps in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, so maybe my daughter will get to Disneyland for the holidays after all), and the Runnin’ Utes can start strong as they are tested early in the season.

Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.


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