Grab your torches and pitchforks, ladies and gentlemen.
After an abysmal loss at the hands of Oregon, followed by failing to play upset in Boulder, the Utes finished with an 8-4 record — third place in the Pac-12 South. Once again, the Utes controlled their own destiny heading into the final three weeks of the season and once again, they failed to capitalize. The late season slides led many to demand head coach Kyle Whittingham’s head on a platter. The cries for change are coming louder than the cannons signaling the fourth quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
As a fan, I understand. I watched the Ute offense drop pass after pass and make poor read after poor read. I was frustrated. As my 12 dedicated followers know, I have been ‘drinking the Koolaid’ when it came to the Utes. I’ve written about Rose Bowls and the playoffs. I defended them when they lost to Cal. I dismissed the loss to Washington, saying they could make it to the championship, and I remained optimistic after the heartbreaker against the Ducks. For a moment after the Colorado game, I was prepared to join the mob gathering on the internet forums.
Then I stopped. I examined what happened during the game. I watched receivers dropping passes that were hitting them in the hands; I watched the read option not be read. I saw players with opportunities to make plays and to be the hero shrink when the lights were bright. I remembered a quote I have heard and said a hundred times:
“Coaches can coach, but players have to make plays.”
Whittingham knows how to coach. He brings in one- and two-star recruits and turns them into NFL talent. When I say NFL talent, I don’t mean making an NFL roster, I truly mean talent. Stars on NFL rosters. In the past three seasons, he has finished in the Top 25. He wins bowl games. He has a relatively scandal-free program.
Let me clarify that I don’t believe Whittingham should be free of any pressure regarding his performance. At the end of the day, the buck stops with him. But to the former third-string little league quarterbacks, and the fans who see dedication as getting to the tailgate lot early to get a buzz on before sunrise, I say try to find someone better. I say find someone who is in the conversation as one of the nation’s top coaches year in and year out. Find someone who can consistently win in-state recruiting battles. Find someone who has had four 10-plus win seasons at the same school and only two losing seasons.
There needs to be change; that much is obvious. One criticism of Whittingham is that he focuses much more attention on defense and special teams than he does offense. Many of the Utes defensive stars began on the other side of the ball. More than that, the team’s philosophy seems to be to let the defense win the game and don’t let the offense screw it up. That and late season slides have been the battle cry of Whittingham dissenters for a few seasons now.
At the end of the day, the Utah Football team finished in the top third of the Pac-12 again. Did they have a chance to win? Of course, but that is the beauty of playing in a Power 5 conference. Any team can win in any week. If a safe schedule is what fans want, then they should cheer for BYU’s independent schedule. The Utes are on the cusp. The pressure is on, but if memory serves right, the last time the Utes finished the top third of a conference two years in a row was 2006 and 2007, and we all know what happened in 2008.
Keep the faith, Ute Nation. Disband the mob, put out the torches and enjoy bowl season. Like the Brooklyn Dodgers said, “Wait ‘til next year.”