Utah football: From the beginning, it was game of firsts for the Utes
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — It was a game of firsts for the Utah Utes. Their inaugural Pac-12 home game started off with an eventful opening kickoff and an initial play from scrimmage that defined, in many ways, how the evening would go at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
And in the end, it wasn't good for the home team — turning out as dark as the black pants the Utes wore with their red jerseys.
Washington prevailed 31-14 on a night where Utah turned the ball over five times, lost starting quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury late in the first half (his status will be evaluated Monday) and managed only 17 yards rushing.
There were signs early that it wasn't going to be the Utes' night.
Ryan Lacy fumbled the opening kickoff and Washington's Jamaal Kearse returned it 18 yards for a touchdown.
On Utah's first play from scrimmage, Wynn was sacked for a six-yard loss.
Despite the ugly start, the Utes managed to even the score at 7-7 midway through the first quarter. Mistakes, though, resurfaced in the second when turnovers ended two potential scoring drives. An interception by Wynn gave Washington the ball on its own 4-yard line and a fumble by Dres Anderson gave the Huskies possession on their 6-yard line later in the quarter.
"We were moving the ball fairly well in the first half and couldn't get in," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We turned it over twice in the red zone. We started the game off in the worst possible scenario."
Washington wound up with a 10-7 halftime lead after Erik Folk made a 44-yard field goal as time expired. Utah aided the cause with a pair of 15-yard penalties (unsportsmanlike conduct and roughing the passer) along the way.
Otherwise, Whittingham said, the Utes played very well defensively in the first half. Washington had only 112 yards of total offense, including just 31 on the ground. The numbers swelled to 411 and 185 by game's end. Quarterback Keith Price wound up with 226 yards passing and three touchdowns, while running back Chris Polk finished with 189 yards rushing.
"They couldn't run the football in the first half and the second half was a completely different story," Whittingham said. "We couldn't slow them down. They ran the ball right down our throat."
The Huskies scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives in the second half to pull away comfortably.
"It's very disappointing," defensive end Derrick Shelby said while noting that the defense was getting what it wanted over the first two quarters. "We just didn't have it in the second half."
The game, he added, was a different beast at that point.
The offense, meanwhile, turned the ball over two more times after the break when seldom-used backup Jon Hays replaced Wynn at quarterback.
Although the junior college transfer did complete 10-of-16 passes, including a 4-yard scoring strike to tight end Dallin Rogers in the closing seconds, Utah's ground game was non-existent. The Utes had zero yards rushing in the second half.
"I'm not too sure what was going on with the run game," said Hays, who noted that the Utes will have to watch the film and make adjustments.
Whittingham acknowledged that the inability to establish a run game was an obvious negative. The most disappointing thing, however, was Utah's five turnovers. The lone takeaway by the Utes was an interception by linebacker J.J. Williams.
"The most important stat in football, other than the final score, is the turnover margin," Whittingham said. "We were minus-4 against a quality team. That's not going to work."
And it didn't, leaving the Utes at 2-2 overall and 0-2 in Pac-12 play. Not exactly a good spot to be in with No. 22 Arizona State coming to town on Saturday.
"It's going to be an even bigger challenge next week," Whittingham said..
Since beating Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, Utah is just 1-4 against teams in the Associated Press Top 25. The lone win was a 27-24 overtime victory over No. 15 Pittsburgh last season at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
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