LAS VEGAS — And you thought the Utes were anxious to get in the Pac-12 before.
It couldn't be a harder place than where they were Wednesday night.
The nation's longest bowl win streak is over — as is the debate over which of the prominent non-automatic qualifying teams is better. Actually, most people had decided that long before this year's Las Vegas Bowl happened. But just to make it official, here's the tally: Boise State 26, Utah 3.
Maybe it's better for the Utes to leave the Mountain West.
Do they really want to play these guys EVERY year?
Utah can now take its act to its new fancy-pants, automatic-qualifying, salad-loving, West-Coast-living conference.
"Big challenge ahead of us, obviously, moving up to the Pac-12," said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham. "The bar is raised in all areas."
Speaking of areas, where were the Utes on Wednesday, Area 51?
So it's over. Broncos rule, Utes unspool. Utah's nine-game bowl win streak is history. The suspicion that Utah was over-matched was verified, not to mention the suspicion that Terrance Cain is a nice backup quarterback, not a miracle worker.
"He struggled," said Whittingham.
Now all BSU needs is a medical school and some ivy-covered buildings and it's also good to go for the Pac-10/12/16.
"When you're playing a team like Boise State, you've got to be much better than we were tonight," Whittingham said.
Considering Utah's bowl streak ("Nothing goes on forever," Whittingham said), one had to wonder going in, whether the Utes might still come up with something — even though the Broncos were 2 1/2-touchdown favorites. Nine straight wins is nothing to dismiss. Whittingham had gained the reputation as both a great coach and a fair-to-middlin' witch doctor.
He beat Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl, last year, despite a two-loss season in the Mountain West. He beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl when the Tide had been ranked No.1 for half the season. He beat Georgia Tech after a 6-5 regular season.
Given enough time, you usually don't want to play him in poker, Yahtzee, Scrabble or hopscotch, much less football.
But even Utah's extraordinary postseason record didn't impress the odds makers, this year. Largely, that was due to the opponent. Also, the Utes were going with Cain. And while both teams professed the utmost expectation that there would be no drop-off in productivity, privately the Utes must have known better.
Even when starter Jordan Wynn was playing, the offense was wobbly. If you toss out the 500-yard game against San Diego State, the Utes have been flat-out mediocre or worse since late October: 327 total yards against Air Force, 199 vs. TCU, 265 vs. Notre Dame, 296 vs. BYU and 200 against Boise.
Although a respectable and experienced signal-caller, the knock on Cain was that he didn't score points. That happened again Wednesday. He's now 9-2 as a starter. But sometimes those wins were driven by defensive plays. When Wynn injured his arm in the season's fifth game (unbeknown to the public) his production became uneven. Fans started clamoring for Cain. That ebbed considerably after the BYU game, in which he threw as many interceptions as completions (two) and gained just eight yards.
Wednesday didn't help.
However, to blame the lack of production all on Cain would be wrong. His protection was spotty. Receivers dropped passes. Rushers didn't move particularly well. Soon the Utes were looking much like they did against TCU and Notre Dame, moving mostly laterally, gaining a few yards here and there, but never really moving.
The Utes held things off in the early going, aided by a combination of good defense and Boise flub-ups. It made no difference. Not only couldn't they score, they couldn't expect to hold off the Broncos forever.
There were a few chances, times when a penalty, a drop or a stall kept them from closing the deficit. Reggie Dunn made a nice 39-yard return to start the second half, but three plays later — after a big gain — Shaky Smithson fumbled the ball back to the Broncos. A team of flurries, BSU scored twice in the final 2:27 of the half and again at 8:18 of the third, to put the game away.
Thus ended the second-longest bowl win streak in NCAA history.
"This is disappointing, not only for me, but for everyone who has been in this program the last 11 years," said center Zane Taylor, choking up. "It hurts bad. It hurts bad, man."
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