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SAN ANTONIO — All those detractors that howled loudly at the possibility of Utah making the four-team college playoff obviously were justified.
As far as belonging with the big boys, the Utes were nothing more than fleeting pretenders. This much is not subject to debate.
Maybe the competition was the primary factor, or possibly the blame belongs solely on Utah.
Whatever the reasons, the Utes have pushed back the perils that plagued them in prior Novembers into the following month. Over the last two seasons, Utah has lost the last four consecutive football games all played in December.
The latest loss — and most disappointing — came against Texas, which dominated in a 38-10 decision over the Utes in Tuesday’s Alamo Bowl. Three weeks removed from being ranked No. 5 at 11-1, Utah crashed in its final two games, including the 37-15 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The Utes had a repeat of the maladies that spoiled last season, which ended with losses to Washington in the Pac-12 title game and against Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl. However, this season’s swoon seems much worse.
“It’s a shame we didn’t finish stronger,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “It’s the time of year now where you judge everything and take a step back and keep everything in perspective.”
Whichever way you look at it, the Utes took a giant step back in the last two games. It’s as disappointing a two-game stretch has they’ve had in years.
The great senior class that propelled Utah to its highest levels in the Pac-12 goes out on an awful note. But the class’s legacy will be remembered fondly in time — just not in the immediacy.
“It does not tarnish, one iota, what this senior class has accomplished,” Whittingham said. “These guys left their mark.”
Still, this wasn’t supposed to happen.
Last season, Utah lost by only one touchdown — which came on an interception return that bounced off a receiver’s legs — to the Pac-12 champion. Northwestern also was a division winner before losing to Ohio State in the Big 10 championship.
This year, Oregon embarrassed the Utes by dominating the trenches on both sides of the football. But this Texas team had not proven to be nearly as good as those other three.
Long considered one of the great college football programs, the Longhorns have failed to match their reputation in recent seasons. Since Mack Brown left as coach after the 2013 season, Charlie Strong, and now Tom Herman had combined to go 40-36.
After posting a 10-4 record last year, culminating with a win in the Sugar Bowl, Texas started 4-1 this season with only a seven-point loss to powerhouse Louisiana State, leading to returns to prominence proclamations. The Longhorns then finished the regular-season at 3-4, including a losing to a 5-7 Texas Christian.
Like the case with Oregon, the Utes were favored to win this bowl game. Too bad Texas was having none of it.
The Longhorns obviously were the better team from virtually every standpoint — and this includes coaching and schemes.
Right from the start, Texas controlled the game in all aspects. Credit the coaching staff, which included replacements in both coordinator positions, for exploiting Utah’s weaknesses.
Aware that injuries and Jaylon Johnson’s decision to skip the game to prepare for the NFL draft, Texas went right at Utah’s secondary. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Sam Ehlinger connected with Collin Johnson for a 34-yard reception over the middle.
The drive ultimately stalled, leading to Cameron Dicker’s 29-yard field goal that gave Texas the lead it never relinquished. Meanwhile, Utah’s offense ended drives with a series of punts until getting a field goal and a late touchdown in the second half.
Perhaps the most disappointing play of the game for Utah’s offense came on its first drive of the third quarter. Facing a fourth-and-one near its 44-yard line, the offense actually lost yardage when quarterback Tyler Huntley’s run around the left end came up woefully short.
Texas promptly assumed control by going 43 yards on three plays to increase the lead to 17-0. The Utes finally salvaged a measure of respect getting on the scoreboard with Jake Redding’s 32-yard field goal.
So now the Utes have left to ponder two games of blown opportunities to finish what was such a promising season less than one month ago. With much at stake, including a potential top 10 national ranking, this team failed miserably to measure up.
Still, finishing at 11-3 and winning the South Division for the second consecutive season, is nothing to scoff at. But it wasn’t enough, especially when considering the possibilities.