Stopped short

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

The Utes were so close to victory on Saturday night against Air Force, they could have reached out and touched it-if only they still had the ball.

Utah running backs Eddie Wide and Darryl Poston each had an opportunity from inside the one-yard line to keep the game alive late in the fourth quarter, but both were stuffed short of the goal line and the Falcons escaped Rice-Eccles Stadium with a 20-12 victory.

“It’s kinda rough talking about it, you know,” Poston said. “The team and the coaches had confidence in me to get that in the endzone and unfortunately I didn’t. It’s sad because throughout the last couple weeks and the summer, everyone was always questioning the running backs and me being able to get that six inches or a yard really would have reinforced the fact that the running backs are back.”

The touchdown would have given the Utes an opportunity to tie the game with a two-point conversion, but the ball was turned over on downs after a swarm of Falcons stopped Poston short of the goal line.

“That really bothers me,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “More than anything else in that football game, that bothers me. We got two shots. One from the one-yard line and one from the six-inch line and we couldn’t get in.”

As was the case against Oregon State in the season opener, the Utes struggled to piece together a consistent running game. The combination of Poston, Wide, Darrell Mack and Ray Stowers were able to muster merely 73 yards on 33 carries.

“Our running game was a little bit more effective than last week but not effective enough. Thirty three carries for 73 yards-that’s not gonna cut it.”

The first half of the game was a defensive battle, with neither Air Force or Utah able to muster more than a field goal. The second half, on the other hand, proved to be just the opposite. Air Force pounded the Utes with a rushing attack that, after all was said and done, rushed for 334 yards. Senior quarterback Shaun Carney led the way for Air Force, rushing 16 times for 113 yards.

“The bottom line is that they don’t score, we win,” said Utah middle linebacker Joe Jiannoni. “That’s the bottom line. We need to go back as a defense and find out what’s going wrong.”

The Utes played the home opener without the services of starting quarterback Brian Johnson, who separated his shoulder against Oregon State. Backup Tommy Grady got off to a slow start, completing just four of his first 16 passes. The senior eventually settled down in the fourth quarter and finished with 240 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Grady also led the Utes down field on their final drive.

The senior completed a pass to sophomore Marquis Wilson at the four-yard line, but an awry step landed out-of-bounds as Wilson stretched for the touchdown. The ensuing play saw Grady motion out of the backfield and a direct snap go to freshman running back Eddie Wide, who was stuffed just short of the goal line.

“We were getting into a little rhythm right there at the end,” Grady said. “We were doing two-minute hurry up offense and the receivers were running good routes and I had good protection. It’s too bad we couldn’t get in.”

The Utes received another huge blow to the offense on Saturday night when junior wideout Brent Casteel left the game with a knee injury.

“Brent is out for the season,” Whittingham said. “Unless that MRI was wrong, Brent is out.”

“We’ve kind of been hit with the injury bug a little bit, but do you know how much UCLA (Utah’s next opponent) cares about that? None. They’re going to go for the jugular.”

Casteel was one of the Utes’ top offensive weapons from a year ago with 600 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Utes will have to try to find other options if they want to avoid a 0-3 start next week when they play host to No. 13 UCLA. The Bruins go into the game 2-0, their latest win coming over BYU, 27-17, on Saturday.

“We’ve got to just learn from (the loss),” Jiannoni said. “What can I say? It’s a loss. It’s a terrible loss. We prepared tremendously…so hard for this team and it’s a heartbreaker for us to lose because we thought for sure coming in that we would get this one.”

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Tyler Cobb

U reciever Brian Hernandez nearly gets his head taken off by Carson Bird in the Utes’ home loss to Air Force.

Tyler Cobb

Air Force’s Aaron Shanor and Carson Bird stop U receiver Bradon Godfrey after he catches a pass. The Falcons held strong all game and held on for a 20-12 win on the road.