Bleeding Red: Utes look to counter after getting smacked by Stanford

Utah had its stiffest test all year
And couldn’t seem to find second gear
Yes, the Utes took a shot to the mouth
But they’re still near the top of the South

COMMENTARY – Yes, the dream is over, Utah lost to Stanford. But if anybody was seriously expecting the Utes to go undefeated then you were only dreaming anyway and it’s time to wake up.

utesUtah was far from perfect, but that describes virtually every team. The simple truth is that you do not have to play perfect to win, you can make some mistakes and still end up victorious. The game was within reach. The Utes played well, just not well enough. Ultimately, too many mistakes cost them the game.

I can easily think of a handful of plays that potentially cost Utah the game. If any one of them had turned out differently, it might have swayed the ultimate outcome. There was the 57-yard pass on Stanford’s first drive, which gave the Cardinal its only first down of the series and put them in field-goal range. What about the dropped punt by the Utes that again put Stanford in field goal range even though the Utah defense held them to three-and-out? Don’t forget about Bryce Love’s 68-yard touchdown gallop after being bottled up for most of the game. The real nails in the coffin were Troy Williams throwing back-to-back picks in the fourth quarter.

Of course, I am smart enough to realize that the door swings both ways. The Cardinal had two would-be touchdowns nullified by a penalty and a timeout called right before the snap and had to settle for a field goal instead.

That’s why the teams line up and play the games each week – you never know what is going to happen. In spite of what Vegas might like you to believe at times, the outcome is far from inevitable.

One of many reasons why I love sports, and football in particular, is that it mimics life in so many ways. Nobody is perfect, but realistically nobody should be expected to be perfect. We all make mistakes. Everybody can look back at their own life and wonder what might have been. What if I had the guts to ask the cute girl in my English class to the prom? What if I hadn’t slammed the partner’s hand in the car door during a recruiting trip (true story)? What if I had started my own firm years before I finally got around to doing it? Even so, things haven’t turned out half bad.

As Mike Tyson has been credited with saying, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” So, the real test of character is what do you do after you have taken a shot to the kisser.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Before we move on to the next game up for the Utes this week, let’s look at some of the takeaways from Saturday night’s game.

Troy Taylor knows what he is doing, and I am going to be slow to second-guess him again. He absolutely made the right choice picking Tyler Huntley as the starter. Williams is good, but Huntley is better. In Williams’ defense, he faced a tougher opponent in Stanford than Huntley has had to deal with so far. Nevertheless, Williams was not as accurate with his throws, was not a real running threat, and was just not as effective running the offense.

The Utes sorely missed Tyler Huntley Saturday | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

Williams’ prior friendship with Darren Carrington II was a key factor in recruiting Carrington to play at Utah this year. Ironically though, Williams just doesn’t have the same rapport that Huntley has with Carrington on the field. Carrington did finish the game with seven receptions for 99 yards and one touchdown. However, Williams often looked the other way even when Carrington had single coverage in the red zone. Through the first three quarters, Carrington was only targeted three times while Raelon Singleton had been targeted eight times.

“If Tyler Huntley is not able to play this week, it will be an open quarterback competition in practice,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We will make sure that we give both guys a shot, Troy and Cooper, and see who comes away with it.”

Overall, it is amazing how close Saturday’s game really was. With three minutes left to play in the first half, the score was tied 10-10 and both teams had exactly 200 yards of total offense. Ultimately, the Utes lost by a field goal, with Stanford putting up 384 yards of total offense, while Utah had 382. The Utes even had the advantage in time of possession (32:37 to 27:23), first downs (25-14), and total plays (73-55). But Utah lost two key battles — turnovers and sacks (both of which favored the Cardinal, 2-0).

Ute fans still have plenty of reasons to cheer, and lots of excitement to look forward to the remainder of the season.

“We did some good things on defense,” Whittingham said. “When you hold a team to 23 points, you usually have a good chance to win those games. What we didn’t do on defense was create any havoc – no takeaways, no sacks.”

By dropping a conference game, Utah now has a lot in common with the rest of the Pac-12 South Division. Five of the six teams have lost exactly one conference game. In fact, four of the six teams (including Utah) have a 1-1 conference record. USC is at the top with a 3-1 conference record, and Colorado is alone at the bottom at 0-3. There isn’t a team in the South that the Utes can’t beat (or lose to). Things are about to get very interesting.

Utah travels to the Golden State to play USC in the Coliseum on Saturday. Continuing a theme from last week, the Trojans will pose the biggest challenge the Utes have faced so far this year. But that challenge also represents a true opportunity. Will Utah rise to the challenge and come away with a win, or come up short again, having taken a 1-2 punch to the mouth in consecutive weeks?

Here’s hoping the Utes can take the licking by the Cardinal, keep on ticking against the Trojans, and come back home with a huge road win this weekend.

Bleeding Red is sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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