One day after his Utah team suffered a second consecutive embarrassing loss, Kyle Whittingham lamented the brutal nature of the coaching profession, complete with its often alternate array of extreme emotions.
That’s the way it’s been this season for the Utes, who through eight games have managed separate streaks of four wins followed by four losses. Understandably, Whittingham and his crew have endured the proverbial roller-coaster ride.
Suffice it to say, the Utes desperately needed some positive vibes heading into final four games. Right on cue, the UCLA game fell at the perfect time on the schedule in the first week of November.
The Utes took advantage of a struggling UCLA team that was without star quarterback Josh Rosen, who stayed home after suffering a concussion, in winning 48-17 Friday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Winning for the first time since Sept. 22, Utah (5-4, 2-4 in the Pac-12) moved to within one game of becoming bowl eligible.
As bad as Utah was in October – a month that included blowout losses to Arizona State and Oregon – the Bruins were even worse, especially on defense. UCLA came into the game allowing an average of 307 yards on the ground, easily the worst at the FBS level. In their four prior losses, the Bruins had given up an average of nearly 50 points a game.
To the surprise of no one, Utah running back Zack Moss went over the 100-yard rushing mark midway through the third quarter. Moss, who surpassed 100 yards for the third game this season, could have gone over 200 yards if the game had remained competitive.
For good measure, UCLA’s pass defense was equally horrible against the pass. Tyler Huntley picked apart the Bruins, tossing three touchdown passes before the game got out of hand.
To put it bluntly, the Utes were in serious trouble if they had lost to a team the caliber of UCLA. Overlooking a sluggish start, which a mixture of penalties, Utah eventually took control and put away a bad team.
And by doing so, the Utes took a giant step toward the only realistic goal that is left in this season. They now need only another win to get bowl eligible, a designation that does not guarantee a good season but does eliminate ending on a completely sour note for the outgoing seniors.
With three games remaining, Utah needs to find a way to get one win against Washington State, Washington or Colorado. Most likely, the Utes are not going to beat Washington in two weeks in Seattle, meaning they only need to split the final two home games to reach the postseason for fourth consecutive year.
Even finishing at a less-than-glorious 6-6, Utah could find a measure of success this season. Given the heavy losses they incurred off of last season’s team, the Utes figured to need at least a bowl game in 2017.
Obviously, considering the inferior competition, Utah’s 4-0 start was far more a mirage than it was reality. Drilling a horrible UCLA team is not noteworthy, but at least the Utah offense did enough to regain some of the confidence it had in September.
After scoring a touchdown that was aided by a UCLA muffed punt, the Utah offense finally got going against a bad defense. Between the start of the second quarter and midway through the third quarter, Utah’s offense totaled 362 yards and 31 points.
On Utah’s last two possessions of the second quarter, Huntley floated a touchdown pass to Darren Carrington in the end zone and then Matt Gay closed the first half with a short field goal. The Utes made it look easy on the first play from scrimmage of the second half, as Huntley connected with a wide open Troy McCormick for a 75-yard touchdown pass.
With such a porous defense, the only way UCLA could have won the game was through a prolific offense. But any chance the Bruins had to light up the scoreboard went awry when Rosen wasn’t well enough to make the trip.
Not that Rosen’s backup, Devon Modster, played poorly. The freshman actually completed his first seven passes for 101 yards and one touchdown.
But even if Modster could have put up Rosen-like numbers, it would not have mattered. The bad news is for every touchdown the Bruins scored the defense had to go back on the field.