Third-quarter breakdown nearly kills U’s hopes

By By Tye Smith

By Tye Smith

Things were going great for Urban Meyer and his new offense in the first half of Thursday’s contest with California.

Led by running back Brandon Warfield, the Utes took advantage of good field position and turnovers to score 21 first-half points.

The U defense was playing well too, giving up only seven first-half points in a game that appeared like it was going to turn into a rout.

But that was not to be.

A rout would have been too boring for the record crowd that turned out to watch what became an instant classic. Unfortunately for U fans, the third quarter started poorly, and only got worse from there. It quickly turned into the quarter that wouldn’t end.

The Utes received the ball to start the third quarter, but it was quickly evident that Cal had made some adjustments and that they were going to shut down the run. After a short drive that ended in a punt, the U gave up a long drive that culminated in a Cal field goal.

The score was then 21-10.

On the next possession, the Utes insisted on running the ball up the middle again. Cal’s D was not fooled as they forced Utah into a three-and-out. Punting from their own end zone, the Utes allowed punter Matt Kovacevich to be pressured, which resulted in a terrible punt off the side of the punter’s foot.

The Golden Bears capitalized on great field position (the drive started on the Utes’ 28-yard line) to score a touchdown in just five plays. Cal went for the two-point conversion in an attempt to make it a three-point game, but was unsuccessful.

With 3:28 remaining in the quarter, the lead was obviously slipping. The score at this point was 21-16.

Another stalled drive by the U offense, which focused mostly on runs up the middle, was marred by several false-start penalties.

The lack of discipline was disconcerting enough, but the loss of yardage resulting from the penalties was what ultimately cut the drive short.

The U was left again punting from its own end zone and, in what seemed like dj vu, Kovacevich made another costly mistake by shanking his second consecutive punt.

Cal was certain to take advantage of the good field position, and the inevitable touchdown came with 29 seconds remaining in the third quarter. For the first time, the Utes were behind. The score was 24-21 after a successful California two-point conversion.

The next two passes thrown by Alex Smith were nearly intercepted, and the crowd seemed to recoil in the face of sudden uncertainty.

All was not lost, however, as the breakdown quarter from hell finally ended, and the spell on the Utes was lifted. The fourth quarter came like a ray of light, and the sellout crowd bolstered the Utes to their second victory.

The third-quarter collapse is now just an afterthought of a highly successful game, but it will not be forgotten. It will surely serve as a warning that the Utes are not invincible, even with a three-score lead and one half of football left to play.

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