Football: Utes lose chance as Pac-12 South power with loss

IMG_3666The Utes lost more than just a game to then-No. 12 UCLA last Thursday night — they lost a chance to grab a top spot in the Pac-12 South. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson lost his statistical lead on Bruins’ Heisman candidate Brett Hundley and Ute wide receiver Dres Anderson missed an opportunity to upset his father’s alma mater and based on the looks on Utah players’ faces in the postgame press conference, they were devastated.
They had reason to be. Wilson put the ball in the Bruins’ hands six times as interceptions haunted him all night. Not all of them were bad throws, though. A mix of miscommunication, tipped balls and wayward routes by his receivers contributed to the turnovers.
One particular play put a spotlight on how bad some of the miscues were. Wilson’s fourth picked-off pass was intended for Anderson, but he was not anywhere near it.
“I guess it was a slant-and-go,” Anderson said. “I didn’t get the call. I just got the slant call, so it was just a miscommunication on us.”
Despite turning the ball over time and time again, the Utes were never out of the game. UCLA had a five-turnover advantage, but barely escaped Rice-Eccles Stadium with a seven-point victory.
“It says somethin’ about the team, you know, we got heart and stuff,” Anderson said. “But we just gotta find ways to make plays at the end.”
Utah kicker Andy Phillips remained perfect on the season in field goal attempts, as he split the uprights from 44 and 37 yards out. Following his second field goal, which ricocheted off the left upright and through, Phillips executed his second career onside kick to perfection. The Utes recovered the kick and had a chance to tie the game with two minutes remaining.
“We definitely had that mindset that we were gonna score and we were gonna come back in this game,” Wilson said. “That last play [Wilson’s sixth interception], it just didn’t happen, but we had the mindset that we were gonna score on that drive.”
Given the huge turnover disparity, Utah had its defense to thank for keeping it in the game. Keith McGill came up with the Utes’ second pick of the year and he took it to the house to knot the game up at 24 apiece early in the fourth quarter.
“As a defense, we just come out and react,” McGill said. “If there’s a turnover on the offense, then we just go out as a defense and try to get a turnover. We just pretty much play full speed at all times.”
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham recognized that his defense kept Utah in the game and, as always, said he was proud of his team. Win or lose, Whittingham carries himself the same way in postgame press conferences. He simply offers the media an analysis, gives credit where it is due and looks forward.
“When you turn the ball over six times and only gain one, you’re not gonna win,” Whittingham said. “It’s amazing that we had a chance there at the end … Very proud of our defense in the second half. Our defense was dominant in the second half … Six interceptions … give UCLA credit, they made it happen, but they weren’t necessarily six bad throws … Pick ourselves back up. We got Stanford coming in next week, No. 5 in the country or whatever it is they’re ranked, and so it doesn’t get any easier.”