SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah desperately needed a win Saturday night to have a chance at a winning season and to remain bowl eligible. But the visiting Arizona Wildcats were too much at the end, beating the Utes 34-24 and ending the team's postseason chances.
The Utes struggled all season to keep their momentum going in the game. If it wasn't a penalty that brought back a big play, it was the defense giving up and letting the opposing team have the open field. Now, the Utes will be forced to address these issues after their first losing season 2002 — Ron McBride's last season with the team.
While a bowl game is always the end goal, the game/season is empty if the team barely gets there. There is a clear difference between playing in the National Championship game or the Rose Bowl and some no name bowl. Utah needs the offseason with a losing record on their mind. The team has the talent, but for whatever reason, struggles to maintain consistency.
Utah was given several opportunities Saturday to win the game. On several occasions Arizona gifted the ball to Utah. However, the gift was wasted as Utah sputtered on offense. It's not everyday that a team wins the turnover battle, but loses the game. Utah went away from the divided play between the run and passing game. While the run game was working with White, who ran for 112 yards, he can't be relied upon to be the entire offense; there has to be a more balanced approach. Arizona figured out the offense and stopped it in its tracks.
Continuing with the last observation, Utah's play calling was off. The flea flickers, reverses, fake punt and fake field goals are fun to watch, but why all the trick plays in one game? Why the gutsy calls early? While these type of play appear to be the right call if executed correctly, it doesn't make sense to keep it up when they don't work.
It started on Utah's first two drives when they elected to go for it on fourth down instead of taking two early field goals. It's nice to see Kyle Whittingham and Brian Johnson want to make a statement early, but points speak more than turnover on downs. While talent from the athletes need to improve, so does the play calling from the coaches.
Both the offense and defense can't play consistent football. Last season the defense had the talent and kept the Utes in the game, but the offense couldn't sustain a drive. This season is just all-around messy. There are moments of brilliance on both sides of the ball, but they are short lived. Maybe the high expectations will be tempered coming into next year and Utah can just focus on playing football.
Does Utah beat Colorado? Sure, Utah managed to beat Cal and Washington State, but can they beat Colorado on the road? It's easy to say Utah is favored and that they easily go in and win, but anyone who observed last season knows it's not that easy, and last year's game was at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Win or lose, Utah has a lot to work on in the offseason. On all accounts the offense should improve with Wilson going through an entire offseason as the starter. But it will take more than Wilson improving his game.