20/20 vision

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

Saturday’s game against BYU had all the makings of a classic rivalry matchup: big plays, lead changes and, most importantly, controversy.

A Utah/BYU showdown without disagreement is equivalent to Thanksgiving dinner without turkey or a bachelor party sans strippers. Controversy goes hand in hand with rivalry; without it, sports talk radio would be utterly boring for the next nine months.

BYU’s heartbreakingly narrow margin of victory gives Utah fans plenty of opportunity to pontificate about the game and to second-guess calls made by both head coach Kyle Whittingham and the men in stripes.

Although “what ifs” abound, the call most likely to be questioned by armchair coaches and quarterbacks is the failed attempt at a fourth down conversion on the opening drive of the third quarter.

After moving down the field with relative ease, the Utes stalled deep inside Cougar territory, forcing Whittingham to make a difficult decision. Eschewing a field goal try, which could have ultimately won the game, or at least forced overtime, the Ute brass opted to go for the first on fourth and inches. The result? Turnover on downs, BYU football.

The outcome of that call was every bit as immediate as it was lasting. Instead of cutting into the Cougars’ lead, Utah effectively handed them the momentum.

The situation presented a catch-22 for Whittingham, as a field goal attempt would have been met with marked displeasure from the thousands of fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium and probably would have left legions of Utah men calling for his head for being too conservative.

But thanks to his gutsy call, Whittingham is now being scrutinized for turning down a chip-shot field goal in favor of an all-too-predictable quarterback sneak. The play call, along with the official spot, left Utah fans with one hell of a bone to pick.

First of all, Eric Weddle, football god and short-yardage specialist, was nowhere to be found during arguably the afternoon’s most important play. Weddle, who averaged six yards per carry one week earlier against Air Force, would almost certainly have been more effective than quarterback Brett Ratliff in that situation.

Secondly, there is the issue of the spot of the ball. Although Ratliff was initially stopped for no gain, one could certainly argue (and Utah fans certainly will) that his second effort netted the Utes the inches they needed.

Whittingham could have challenged the spot; indeed, several fans called for him to do just that. But in his defense, the officials would have been hard-pressed to find the “indisputable visual evidence” needed to overturn the call on the field.

Although Whittingham has made more than his share of mistakes this season, this particular call should not be counted among them. Armed with a dominant offensive line like Utah’s, virtually any coach would have made the same decision.

Hindsight is 20/20, and given a second chance, Whittingham would almost certainly kick the field goal. But the football gods don’t give second chances, and Whittingham will be heavily scrutinized for the next few months as a result.