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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Frog in their throats

By Tom Quinn

Although the Utes are coming off an impressive 20-7 shellacking of reigning MWC champion TCU, it’s unlikely that Utah will get the same two-page, full-color spread in Sports Illustrated that BYU received the week before. Here’s why:

First of all, Utah beat the Horned Frogs in Salt Lake City, and a big home win rarely gets as much press as a big road win.

Secondly, there is the matter of offense. The general public likes to see an offense put up impressive numbers en route to a victory. And while the Utah offense was effective, it was hardly gaudy enough to generate national attention.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the question of injuries. TCU was not at full strength against the Utes, a fact that sports analysts will be talking about for at least the next month.

Utah’s detractors are quick to point out that some of the Frogs’ top players were either playing injured or not playing at all. Senior quarterback Jeff Ballard and sophomore halfback Aaron Brown were the most notable of TCU’s walking wounded.

While Ballard played a largely ineffective first half before being replaced by freshman Marcus Washington, Brown didn’t even bother to suit up.

The absence of two key players begs the following question: Just how much did injuries affect the Frogs’ game plan? According to TCU head coach Gary Patterson, not very much.

“Jeff could not throw the football,” Patterson said after the game. “But Marcus would have played the second half anyway. I thought he did a good job of moving the football.”

Although Patterson’s remarks seemed genuine, some fans and reporters were quick to dismiss them as blatant coachspeak. After all, why on earth would any coach bench his starting quarterback in the middle of a key conference game?

“I didn’t buy that for a second,” one beat writer from Fort Worth told me after the game. “Ballard had lost only one game in his whole career. He (Patterson) was just trying to avoid excuses.”

OK, so maybe someone out there believed Patterson when he said that Ballard’s injury was no biggie. But what about the loss of Aaron Brown, the MWC’s Freshman of the Year in 2005? How badly did that hurt the team?

“Not much,” Patterson said. “The biggest thing was that we didn’t have another back to go to once Lonta (Hobbs) started cramping up. It was his first full game back since getting hurt last year.”

While some sports pundits are quick to accuse the TCU brass of bending the truth to appear supportive of their backups, the statistics seem to buoy the Frogs’ argument.

Hobbs, after all, had a fairly productive night, gaining tough yards against a stingy Ute defense and scoring TCU’s lone touchdown. Washington was also effective; he could have put the Frogs back in the game had three of his drives not ended in turnovers.

Now, a group that just 10 days ago looked like a serious MWC title contender, and perhaps even a team capable of running the table, is all but out of the conference race. Losses to two of its biggest competitors for the crown-BYU and now Utah-have made them little more than an MWC afterthought, just like that.

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