Bleeding Red: Still time to salvage great season

Sun Devils, Trojans and Bruins, oh my!
Beavers in the forecast Saturday night
With Bears, two Cats and Huskies yet to play
Better beat the ‘Buffs is all I can say

Be careful what you wish for, because it might come true. For fans on both sides of the rivalry between the Utah and BYU, one of the perennial debates has been, “Would you rather beat your rival and lose the rest of the games, or lose to your rival and win the rest of the games?” Some hard-core fans are often quick to claim that they would rather beat their rival and lose to the remainder of the field – and don’t think I’m just talking Utes here. I have heard plenty of Cougar faithful say the same thing. I must admit that is a hard question even for me to answer honestly.

This year is giving Utah fans a prime opportunity to evaluate their true feelings on this issue. The undisputed highlight of the year thus far (and very possibly for the rest of the season) has been the thrilling 24-21 victory over BYU. It’s hard to match a victory that was celebrated multiple times before it was even finally in hand. It’s even harder to compete with that win when there are precious few other wins for comparison purposes. I must admit, I do take some small comfort in the fact that BYU fans cannot even console themselves with a win over Utah as their season deteriorates in somewhat similar fashion.

Looking back against UCLA, Utah did take some baby steps in the right direction. A one-score loss on the road to a 5-2 team is not necessarily the end of the world. However, I have never been one to put too much stock in moral victories, and a loss is still a loss. Most notably, there were still way too many miscues and missed tackles.

Travis Wilson made his much-anticipated first start of what should be a long and illustrious career as a Ute. After throwing a mere 10 passes going into last week’s contest, Wilson threw the ball 35 times, completing more than 70% of those attempts. However, early in the game he tried to force a pass without even trying to look off the defense. The ball ended up getting tipped and intercepted, leading to the Bruins first touchdown.

Utah’s offense is dead last in the Pac-12 and 114 out of 120 among FBS schools. On the other side of the coin, Utah’s defense is third in the Pac-12 and 35th in the nation. Utah’s defense and special teams have accounted for five of Utah’s 12 touchdowns, running back three fumbles for touchdowns and setting up the Utah offense inside the 20 for two more touchdowns. And for those of you keeping count, no, the above figures do not count the touchdowns scored in the glorified scrimmage against Northern Colorado.

At times, Utah’s defense plays spectacularly; at other times they look like a bunch of country kids chasing a greased pig around the farm that they can never quite get their hands on and contain. I freely admit that Utah’s offense – or the lack thereof – has put a lot of pressure on the defense. Nevertheless, truly good teams, defenses and individual players thrive under pressure, while others wilt. The repeated failure to lose containment on scrambling quarterbacks and inability to make tackles downfield has taken some of the luster off of what has at times been splendid play by the defense.

Last year, Utah lost its first four Pac-12 games only to win the next four. If the Utes stay true to form this year, that means another loss in Corvallis to the undefeated Beavers this Saturday, to be followed by wins against California (3-4), Washington State (2-5), Washington (3-3) and Arizona (3-3). Such an outcome is very conceivable. That would leave the all-important swing game against Colorado (1-5) for the season finale. Last year’s disappointing loss to the Buffaloes cost the Utes a berth in the inaugural Pac-12 title game. I’d like to see that loss avenged.

Nothing is set in stone. There is a reason why the games are actually played every week rather than simply deferring to computer simulations for the outcomes. The Utes still have an opportunity to give their fans something to cheer about this year.

Notwithstanding the many misfortunes of the Utah Utes this season, I still bleed red. While I no longer fantasize about a special season, I cannot write this team off, either. They remind me too much of myself – impressive play at times, disappointing lapses at others and lots of unfulfilled potential.

Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, 2012, all rights reserved.

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