SEATTLE – This season will go down as one of torture for Utah’s football team, which lost another game in amazing fashion.
Instead of celebrating becoming bowl eligible, which seemed almost a certainty at multiple points during the game, the Utes still are one short of the minimum required to play football during the holiday season. Holding steady at five wins for the second consecutive week, Utah suffered a heartbreaking 33-30 loss to No. 16 Washington on Saturday at Husky Stadium.
In stunning fashion, the Huskies scored 10 points in the final minute to defeat the dejected Utes, who now have lost three games by a total of seven points. After scoring the game-tying touchdown with 58 seconds left, Washington forced the Utes to punt and then kicked a 38-yard field goal in the final play to pull off the most improbable win.
The aggressive mindset that served the Utes well earlier in the game – they were successful on recovering an on-sides kick and getting a first down off a fake punt – bit them in the end. Knowing Washington did not have a timeout left, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham still called a timeout with 22 seconds left in the game and the Huskies seemingly content to let the game go into overtime.
Given new life, Huskies converted two long passes to set up the game-winning field goal as the clock expired. Almost immediately, Whittingham was roasted on social media.
In hindsight, Whittingham admitted, he probably would not have stopped the clock on purpose. The thought process was to get the ball back and give kicker Matt Gay, whose range is 60 yards, a chance to win the game in regulation.
“It was a longshot,” Whittingham said. “Just trying to win.”
Instead, the Utes blew a game in which they were firmly in control. All they needed was a stop on fourth-and-10 on Washington’s final touchdown.
Or maybe they could have run out the clock with another first down or two before giving the ball back to the Huskies. Or they could have go into overtime if Jake Browning did not complete passes of 18 and 31 yards on the final drive.
“A lot of if’s,” Whittingham said.
The only surety is the Utes lost another game they were in position to win. The games against USC and Stanford also fall into the what-if category.
Whether by blowout or close call, Utah’s season has fallen into the disappointment category.
“This profession can grind you up and spit you out,” Whittingham said.
Imagine how it must be on the players, who only have relatively few chances to play the game. It has been brutal on everyone connected to the program this season.
Although Whittingham refuses to concede it, this is a rebuilding – or the at the least, reloading – season for the Utes. By midseason, after humbling losses to Arizona State and Oregon, Utah’s only legitimate goal was to become bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season and for the fifth time in seven Pac-12 years.
All is not lost, however, even if inconsistency and downright poor play cost the Utes a decent shot at an above average season. The latest loss, which is fifth in the last six games, sets up next Saturday’s bowl eligibility showdown with Colorado, which is saddled with the same 5-6 record as Utah.
Give the Utes credit for hanging tough despite watching the season – which began with a promising 4-0 – go south. The problem is, nobody wants to hear it in this win-or-else business.
Even if the offense played its best conference game of the season, considering the caliber of Washington’s defense, it does not matter. Enough wasted opportunities usually result in disappointment.
One week after committing seven turnovers in an eight-point loss to Washington State, the Utes only had one turnover. They also held the ball more than 31 minutes and had 410 yards of total offense.
Big deal, right? Nobody on Utah’s side would argue.
“We didn’t do enough,” said quarterback Tyler Huntley. “We still left a lot of points on the field.”