After concluding the season with a thriller in Rice Eccles Stadium against the Team Down South, the Utes looked ahead to their first Pac-12 Championship game since joining the conference in 2011. After a slow start to the season, the team rattled off four straight convincing wins, set records for offensive production in the process and screamed into not only the rankings but the race for the Pac-12 crown. The Utes battled through adversity, criticism, injury and error to end up on top of the division, but their streak has come to an end with last week’s loss against Washington. While the Utes’ kiss the Pac-12 Championship goodbye, here are the stats from the last few games of the season.
Utah Record at Halfway Mark: 4-2
The Synopsis: I was worried going into the second half of the season, despite the four-game winning streak the Utes ran on, heading into the midway point. The team had two ugly losses and, because of the differentiating circumstances, it could have been viewed as the mark of a team that wasn’t ready to take the jump. The Utes have a notorious tendency to collapse in November, which was the big reason why I wasn’t flying the championship flags yet. Cautiously optimistic, I went into the second half of the season.
Game 9: No. 15 Utah @ ASU
Oldest Prediction: Win, 23-17
Old Prediction: Win, 35-10
Actual Score: Loss, 38-20
The Verdict: Did anyone watch this game and think, “Oh boy, here we go?” Because that’s exactly what I thought. The Utes began November in just about the worst way possible, and not only did they lose to a team they should have beat in resounding fashion, but the team also lost its starting quarterback and running back, and dropped out of the rankings. The college football world was ready to give up on the Utes, and they had reason to do so. The loss brought Utah’s Pac-12 record to 4-3 and put the Utes within striking distance for a few teams, the Sun Devils included. The Utes held the tiebreaker with every other team they had played in the South, except for the Sun Devils and CU Buffaloes, whom they hadn’t played yet. The storm went from docile to very much on the doorstep of the team in about a quarter and a half. This is the first instance of resilience that we’d see out of Utah on a season-wide scale. But coming out of this week they are looking up at a tough mountain.
Game 10: Utah vs. Oregon
Oldest Prediction: Win, 17-14
Old Prediction: Win, 28-21
Actual Score: Win, 32-25
The Verdict: After the injuries to Utah’s offense, I still had them favored against an Oregon team that found itself in the fight for the Pac-12 North. The Ducks were coming off of a convincing win against UCLA and had more momentum coming into the matchup than the Utes, who had just lost two integral offensive pieces. This game was one of the few this season that the Utes started hot. Slow starts had plagued the team all season long, but they were able to bounce back with ease against the opponents they were supposed to beat. The Ducks, on the whole, have had a great season. Coming off a 4-8 record last year, they landed at 8-4 at season’s end, and if not for a stacked northern division, The Ducks and the Utes might have met again in the championship. What I was looking for in this game was how the new starting tandem of Jason Shelley and Armand Shyne would do in both of their first career starts. Not only did the two outperform expectations, but Shelley didn’t turn the ball over, and after a few drives, looked pretty confident in the pocket. Nothing but good news to come out with not only a win but a strong showing from the new starters. Because the Utes no longer controlled their destiny, a win was the best they could do, and they did just that before heading on the road.
Game 11: No. 19 Utah @ Colorado
Oldest Prediction: Win, 34-21
Old Prediction: Win, 34-21
Actual Score: Win, 30-7
The Verdict: In the closest game to a snow bowl that the Utes would come across, the team came into Colorado with a shot to claim their first Pac-12 South crown. Both teams came into the game with a lot to prove, with the Utes trying to secure a spot atop the division, and the Buffaloes still trying to qualify for a bowl game with a head coach that was facing a firing if his team failed to meet expectations. The game was a battle in the trenches, and because of the snow and wind, both teams’ passing games were limited, which brought on extra work for running back Armand Shyne. It was more of a battle of field position than anything as the game transpired due to the bad footing the linemen had on the wet, snowy grass. This was one of the truer tests of the Utes’ mettle of the entire season, because of both the weather and the effect it would have on Colorado’s play. They relied heavily on the run game while the snow was still coming down in thick sheets, which proved detrimental to the both teams’ game plans. As the snow cleared, both quarterbacks let loose, and Jason Shelley again came up perfect on the turnover sheet. After another slow start, the Utes battled back and scored 30 unanswered, and escaped Boulder with their last in-conference win. The Pac-12 South crown was in the hands of Arizona State, who was playing that night against Oregon.
Game 12: No. 19 Utah vs. BYU
Oldest Prediction: Win, 27-10
Old Prediction: Win, 41-17
Actual Score: Win, 35-27
The Verdict: I don’t think there was a single person in Rice-Eccles Stadium that wasn’t happy that this game ended. Well, anyone in red, that is. For a solid three quarters, this was BYU’s game. Former Utah assistant Kalani Sitake was dialing up read option after read option on a confused Utah defense, one that might have been overlooking this game in preparation for a championship game the following week. Former Utah commit Zach Wilson, who was turned away from Utah in the pursuit of freshman phenom Jack Tuttle, looked like he was out for revenge and he was putting on a clinic throughout the first half and gave the Cougars a 20-0 lead going into the half. Not only was the stadium silent, but the team looked gassed. Shelley, while still not making any outrageous decisions, was less than confident and wasn’t driving the ball downfield, which is what the team needed. Not a great way to go into the half, but like the other eight games, the team faced a deficit at the turn of the quarter, but they seemed unphased. The Utes kept on trying to make plays, and eventually, it stuck. Julian Blackmon caught a Wilson pass and took it all the way back to the end zone, sparking what was a comeback for the ages. The Utes rattled off 35 points in the second half, with 21 of those coming in the fourth quarter alone. Shelley even took a ball in on his own for a huge touchdown that took the gas out of any potential BYU comeback. While it was a sloppy start, the ending couldn’t have been better heading into Championship weekend.
The schedule is up to date, and at the time of this writing, the Pac-12 Championship game is yet to be played. But sports media is nothing if not a little speculative, so let’s get speculating!
Game 13: Pac-12 Championship Game No. 17 Utah vs. No. 16 Washington
Zach’s Prediction: Win, 24-21
Actual Score: Loss, 10-3
The Verdict: In the Utes’ final Pac-12 game of the season, the team traveled to Levi’s Stadium to face off with newly-crowned Pac-12 North champion Washington. Heading into the game, the matchups were relatively even in key skill positions, and Washington was favored only by a touchdown. The Utah offense was strangled all game long, never entering the red zone and never scoring a touchdown. The Utes’ lone score of the night was a 54-yard Matt Gay field goal that barely squeaked through the uprights. Jason Shelley threw three interceptions in five attempts, and the run game was tamed early and often by a smothering Washington defense. The Utes’ three-game winning streak came to an end in a disappointingly dull way, as the offense struggled for the entirety of the game. The team lost, and their championship run was lost with it.