The Utes came up just short against the Sun Devils making an already frustrating season even more so tonight at Rice Eccles Stadium. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, and have a knee jerk reaction to the 5 losses that the Utes have suffered this year. Consider for a moment that the Utes only win in conference play is a narrow victory over would be Pac 12 North Champ Stanford. This would lend a Ute fans thinking to “we can play with anybody” And then consider that the Utes were 3 minutes shy of taking down what will be the South Champ ASU. That would have given them wins over the likely Pac 12 North Champ, and the likely Pac 12 South champ. This team is on the verge of greatness if they can simply get out of their own way. Most would argue that this is why the season has been so frustrating, and disappointing. I would argue that when you play a schedule jam packed full of teams that are so similar, you will be on both sides of win loss total until you can get consistent play from the offense, and the offensive weapons that are no longer on the field for the Utes.
Fans, and followers alike are looking to place blame on anybody that they can hold accountable. It is frustrating when you consider the rich past that the Utes have, and the many huge games that they have come out victorious in over the years. I urge all Ute fans to take a deep breath, and take solace in knowing that they have much to look forward to. Don’t forget that the Utes are in the midst of an 8 game stretch that features no team ranked lower than 38 in the BCS computer polls. Keep in mind that it wasn’t long ago that they would have had to win 9 or 10 games vs. inferior opponents just for the opportunity to play verse a team such as the 8 that they are in the midst of playing.
It’s not easy to take solace in the near miss games, and the 4 games that have been decided by less than a touchdown. You can play the what if game all day long, but the fact is this. Utah has never played a schedule of this magnitude, not even over the past 2 years. Yes some of the teams are the same, but they have arguably all gotten better. Consider that they have played 8 of 9 games this year Vs. teams that are already bowl eligible, and are likely to finish the season with 9 or possibly 10 such games. The combined record of the teams that Utah has played not counting the Weber State matchup is 52-20. Nobody in college football has played 8 bowl eligible teams including 7 top 40 teams. Don’t forget that the Utes have won a few of these games along the way as well.
The Utes have paid the price along the way with injuries. and that has been the story of the season. When the season started Travis Wilson would drop back to pass looking to find Kenneth Scott, and Jake Murphy, along with Weslee Tonga, and Dres Anderson. Now when he drops back he see’s only 1 of the top 4 receivers that he started the season planning to throw to. The Utes are not looking to make excuses, and are not taking solace in the near wins, and close losses. The Utes are simply not deep enough to absorb those losses. The Offensive line has not been up to the task of holding opposing teams at bay when it comes to protecting Wilson. Coach Whittingham made this abundantly clear in the post game interview following the 20-19 loss to the Devils.
The Utes have been harmed by the loss of key offensive weapons. Most of the guys that you see lined up at Wide Receiver have fans scrambling for their roster to find the name of the odd number that they don’t know. This allows teams to put 8 in the box and cover Sean Fitzgerald, and Anthony Denham one on one with little time to find an open receiver. Wilson was blitzed approximately 80 % of the time tonight with nowhere to throw the ball. Even on the plays when Wilson tossed the ball out of bounds the receivers were not open, and the ball never would have found it’s way into an open receivers arms.
I would simply urge Ute fans to be careful what you wish for. The Utes are severely out manned in just about every one of the past 5 games, and that lack of depth goes back to the recruiting that was done in the Mountain West Conference. On the defensive side of the ball the Utes have already seen the upgrades that come with Pac 12 recruiting. When I see the defense make wholesale substitutions to slow down opposing offenses, I can’t help but think that those days never would have come in the Mountain West Conference. Be patient Ute fans, and wait for those days that the offense doesn’t skip a beat when a starter goes down with injury. Instead enjoy the bowl game type opponents that they are playing every week. Be thankful for the huge wins that the Utes have enjoyed this year, and in the years ahead. Stanford, BYU, and Utah state are all very good wins, and they have another opportunity this week to take down one of the nations finest. You could be celebrating the next win over New Mexico, or UNLV instead, and finishing seasons with 10 wins that don’t mean much. Hang in there Ute fans, and have trust in the coaching staff that have done such a great job over the past few seasons.