Flags aplenty: Utes hope Saturday’s penalty-fest was an aberration

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.-The Utes might have gotten a clue that it would be a mistake-filled day when starting running back Quinton Ganther made one before the game had even kicked off.

Ganther was held from the starting lineup after being disciplined by Ute head coach Kyle Whittingham for undisclosed reasons.

“We have core values, and when things don’t get done how they’re supposed to get done, you get penalized for it,” Ganther said after Saturday’s 31-17 setback to North Carolina.

But Ganther wasn’t the only player wearing the road whites to run afoul of the game plan.

On the afternoon, Utah was penalized 12 times for 101 yards, the most yards that the Utes have given up to flags since Nov. 11, 2004, when they gave up 130 to Colorado State.

“You can’t be that penalized and hope to overcome that,” Whittingham said. “You combine all the negatives we had, the penalties, the (five) turnovers and the kickoff return for a touchdown (by UNC on the opening kickoff), and it was too much to overcome.”

While 12 penalties is the same number the Utes had in last year’s 46-16 win against the Tar Heels, the Saturday’s penalties happened at more important times, and the Ute offense couldn’t compensate for the gaffes, unlike last year’s squad, which ran up 669 yards of total offense against the Heels in a 46-16 victory.

The biggest game-changer came with a minute left in the third quarter and North Carolina holding onto a 17-14 lead. Tar Heel quarterback Matt Baker threw a pass that flew right into the hands of Ute strong safety Eric Weddle, who scooted 37 yards for an apparent tide-turning touchdown.

But before the Utes could even begin to celebrate, the officials called a personal foul on free safety Casey Evans for roughing the quarterback. The interception was nullified, and five plays later the Heels scored to take a 10-point lead.

“That was a huge swing,” Weddle said. “(The interception) was a huge play for us and for us not to get it and for them to go down and score, it got us down.”

Following the game, the Utes questioned the official’s judgment on the penalty but didn’t make excuses for the momentum-changing play.

“I didn’t think it was a penalty,” Evans said. “But coach always says, if you give the ref an opportunity to make a call, he’s probably going to make it.”

After reviewing the tape over the weekend, Whittingham backed up Evans during the Utes’ Monday press conference on the validity of the roughing call.

“I hate to make the excuse that it was the referees, but there were a lot of calls that I don’t think would have gotten called in the Mountain West Conference,” Whittingham said. “On the roughing the passer (penalty), if that happens 10 times (in the MWC), it doesn’t get called seven of the 10. As a general rule, that’s probably a no-call situation.”

[email protected]