The Great Debate: Will the Utes sink or swim after their first loss?


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By Brock Jensen
The most recent loss to Washington State was an absolutely horrible blow to the Utes. They are definitely in the middle of sinking rather than swimming, and I don’t see them reaching land anytime soon.
Despite the elements, I attended the game that was quite the rollercoaster for Ute fans. Everything seemed to be smooth sailing about halfway through the first quarter with a 21-0 Utah lead. The defense had a pick-six, and Kaelin Clay had yet another punt return touchdown. They were in absolute full control of this game, but that all changed throughout the remainder of the contest.
The Utes’ offense did next to nothing for the remaining three quarters, and as a swimmer will tell you, if you’re not swimming, you’re sinking. Washington State took it to the Utes and ended up stealing one here at Rice-Eccles Stadium — someone, please call a lifeguard.
This loss has bigger implications than just another tally mark in the loss column for the Utes. This is such a blow to their overall morale and season expectations. As many have discussed since before the season even began, the upcoming schedule for Utah is brutal. It was essential for them to start 4-0, but obviously that didn’t happen. They now have a six-game stretch of extremely difficult opponents.
Even though at the end of the day this game is just one loss, it takes away a lot of the confidence and expectations that Ute fans had for the team this season. If they had been able to beat Washington State, they would have gone into the Rose Bowl with an undefeated record and thoughts of blowing up the Pac-12 standings by taking down an undefeated UCLA team.
Now, Utah sits at the bottom of the conference standings, clinging to the hope that they can somehow get three more wins. Those three wins are what every Ute fan wants, as six wins would lead the team to bowl eligibility.
There are still plenty of possibilities for Utah to make some noise in the conference, but they really could’ve used a conference-opening win as a springboard to the rest of their season, especially since this game was at home against a perceived weaker team in the Pac-12.
With this loss, not only did they lose a chance to make themselves known, but I also believe they have significantly reduced their chance to make this season different than previous ones. They are now going to have to pull off some big upsets to finally get over the hump and make it to a bowl game.
Washington State didn’t really win this game. Utah lost it completely. The offensive production is an obvious weak spot for this Utah team, and they just have not looked very good recently. The offense has as many touchdowns as the special teams have in the last two games. Yes, you read that right.
While this shows that Kaelin Clay has been absolutely remarkable, it also points out that this Travis Wilson-led offense is underwhelming. Unless the offense significantly improves, they are going to get destroyed by much better defensive units in the Pac-12.
I hate to say this for Utah fans’ sake, but I really see this loss affecting them in an extremely negative way. They did not look good, and the mental part of giving up a 21-point lead at home is not very encouraging.
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@brock_jensen02[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”2609901″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”medium”][vc_column_text]By Brandon Barlow
It was embarrassing. It was humiliating. It might have even made some people sick to their stomachs to watch as the Utes gave away a victory to Washington State. Yes, the offense was non-existent in the second half. Yes, the defense wore down, and yes, the special teams unit was just one early kick away from making it a 30-28 win.
But need I remind you that it is just one game?
The first loss is always the hardest, but it can also prove to be the most valuable. The Utes are smart enough to take away what went well for them in that game and compare it to what has gone well for them in the season. Bad losses like the one over the weekend make people forget how well the team has played so far.
Utah is not ready to go rock bottom again, and the players will prove it.
Let’s see what they learned. Offensively, the Utes now know they can really pound the football. With the resurgence of Devontae Booker, who has seemed to solidify his spot as RB1 over the smaller Bubba Poole, Utah can now have a reliable running game. After all, Booker registered 178 yards on 24 carries, including the only offensive touchdown on the night. The Utes have not had a running back put up those kinds of numbers since John White in 2012.
The Utes will stop trying to be the passing threat they are not and start getting after the yards on the ground. Their passing game will never open up if they cannot draw the defenders in.
And the defense honestly did a terrific job. It just does not look that way because they gave up 417 yards in the air, but they also created and got key turnovers throughout the game.
The difference was that the defense was on the field longer than the offense. There is not much to tweak in the defense. Utah has a good front seven, a team that is second in the nation in sacks and top ten when it comes to tackles for losses. In addition to that, they have the right mixture when it comes to the secondary. With Eric Rowe being physical at the corner spot, Dominique Hatfield’s quickness and the violent hitters with Brian Blechen and Tevin Carter, the pass defenders have the right chemistry.
We know that arguably Utah’s greatest strength is their special teams units. It seems like the Utes can always rely on return man Kaelin Clay to take one to the house nearly every other return. Now they just have to find a way to make sure teams will still kick it to him.
Although Andy Phillips missed a crucial field goal, the former ski man has the leg to go the distance, his longest being a 51-yard field goal in 2014. Utah depends on their punter, Tom Hackett, in pinning opponents back deep in their own territory. These guys are a huge advantage against teams like UCLA and Oregon State, both of whom Utah will be facing on the road in these next couple of weeks.
My point is that Utah has two-thirds of a good team, and after making some tweaks on the offense, this squad will be just fine.
So take a breather. The season is still young, and the hopes of making it to a bowl game are still very much alive.
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