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SALT LAKE CITY — As the saying goes, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings." Perhaps the Utah football team should take note.
Utah squandered leads of 21-0 in the first quarter; 24-7 at the half; and even 27-14 in the fourth quarter against Washington State, eventually falling to the Cougars, 28-27, last Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"Everyone is disappointed and frustrated," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham stated in his weekly press conference. "We've got to put it behind us and move forward. That's the nature of the business. You can't dwell on a loss for days and days. You can't play backwards, you have to play forward, as Jerry Sloan would say, and that's what we plan on doing."
For the Utah fans who braved the elements to watch their team, most wearing ponchos and anything and everything else to keep them dry, it must have felt like a bad case of déjà vu seeing the game slip away in the final moments. However, it isn't a glitch in the Matrix. Indeed fans have seen this same script many times before, even from the same chair or bleacher seat they were in last Saturday.
Since joining the Pac-12, the Utes have lost games where they held a lead in the fourth quarter five times: Arizona (2012); Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon State (2013); and now Washington State (2014). The scary part? Four of those five games happened at home.
Collapsing and losing a lead in a hostile environment in a pressure-packed situation is understandable, but to lose leads at home in the fourth quarter? That won't sit well with any fan, regardless of what he or she had to eat at halftime.
"You look at college football every single week and it isn’t unique to us and it doesn’t happen to us frequently in my opinion," Whittingham said. "You hope it would never happen, but that’s not ever the case. I think Saturday night it certainly was the case of having somebody down and not knocking them out."
For the most part, he's absolutely right. Five times opposing Pac-12 teams have come back to win games in the fourth quarter against the Utes in three and some change seasons isn't a terrible statistic. Sure, it isn't great but it could be worse. But for a team struggling to find its footprint in its new conference home, each and every win can't be taken for granted, especially since they have missed bowl opportunities each of the last two seasons by just one game.
- 2012 - Arizona, led 24-17, lost 34-24
- 2013 -Oregon State, led 38-37, lost 51-48 OT
- 2013 - at Arizona, led 21-20, lost 35-24
- 2013 - Arizona State, led 19-7, lost 20-19
- 2014 - Washington State, led 27-14, lost 28-27
- 2011 - Georgia Tech, trailed 24-10, won 30-27 OT
- 2012 - at Colorado, trailed 28-20, won 42-35
- 2013 - Utah State, trailed 26-24, won 30-26
Perhaps the bigger issue is the Utes' philosophy of the fourth quarter. While the Utes have surrendered five fourth-quarter comeback losses since joining the Pac-12, there have been numerous other times where the opposing team came dangerously close to adding more games to the loss column for the Utes.
Just last year, the Utes had to hold on in the final moments against Stanford after having a 27-14 lead in the final quarter. It took a Trevor Reilly interception against the Colorado Buffaloes to seal a win after the Utes held a 21-7 lead late in the game.
In fact, only one time the Utes have stepped up to the table in a Pac-12 game to win after having a deficit in the fourth quarter — a 42-35 win at Colorado.
Before the laundry list of excuses come via the comment board and on Twitter, let's point out that things have been more difficult for Utah with a revolving door at offensive coordinator and the lack of a consistent starter at quarterback due to injuries. That being said, no one outside of the program is feeling sorry for the Utes. Whittingham thinks that no one inside the program should, either.
There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves. There is nothing to do but move forward. You can't press rewind. There is no rewind button in life. You have to forget about it, but you have to learn from it. You have to learn from your mistakes and understand that, but you can't sit there and sulk and dwell on it. We have to move forward, and we will.
–Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham
"There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves," he said. "There is nothing to do but move forward. You can't press rewind. There is no rewind button in life. You have to forget about it, but you have to learn from it. You have to learn from your mistakes and understand that, but you can't sit there and sulk and dwell on it. We have to move forward, and we will."
Next up for the 3-1 Utes is a shot to take down No. 8 UCLA this Saturday at the Rose Bowl. If it comes down to the fourth quarter, let's just hope the Utes play to win instead of playing not to lose.
"I think our guys are resilient, both the players and the coaching staff, and that's what we have to be in this case," Whittingham added. Robert Jackson is the cross-platform sports and weather producer for ksl.com and KSL-TV. He has covered the Utes for KSL since 2008. You can catch him and co-host Brian Swinney Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-9 p.m. on the Ute Sports Report 1320 KFAN.