Brad Rock: Utah Utes football: Utes look old school in 9th straight setback to Arizona State

Published: Sunday, Sept. 23 2012 12:43 a.m. MDT

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham during warmups as the Univeristy of Utah and Arizona State University play PAC 12 football Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, in Tempe, Arizona.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

All the President's Men. Rocky. The Outlaw Josey Wales. The beginning of the end of the Wolfman Jack's career.

Not to mention the down-and-out Utah Utes.

All of them harking back to 1976.

Speaking of wolf men, what happened to the running back by the same name? Even the reliable John White, a.k.a. the Wolfman, only got 18 yards on 14 carries in Utah's 37-7 loss to Arizona State.

That's what happens when ASU shows up — the Utes go into retro mode.

Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium, the Utes lost again, making it nine straight. It has been 36 years since Utah beat ASU, and it might be that long before it happens again. It was that bad. Twenty-one zip in the first quarter, 31-7 in the second. ASU scoring on its first five possessions.

Little offense for the Utes, no defense at all until the game was decided. The best hit the Utes delivered was during the second-half kickoff when a referee got knocked out.

Although the Utes showed last year they could beat Pac-12 teams, they have to wonder: Who on the schedule will they beat this year? Washington State, maybe. Colorado? Meh. Oregon State? Unlikely.

Those four conference wins last year are starting to look like a dynasty. Maybe it can happen again. But for now the Utes' undies are showing. The offensive line didn't protect quarterback Jon Hays and nobody protected the ball. The secondary returned safety Brian Blechen, but that wasn't nearly enough. The lines got bullied. The Sun Devils scored on their first five possessions. It was like a broken '70s record after that.

Those fears the Utes had last year when they entered the conference have become even more real in 2012. They weren't nearly fast enough or smart enough.

Kind of like it was back in the day.

Although the Utes were respectable last year, winning four of their final five conference games, they never did answer the question of whether they were fully ready for the Pac-12. After all, they lost their first four and five of nine.

This year the assumption was that they would be better. Hays was more experienced than last year against ASU — his first start. But he never has carried the Utes by himself.

As for White, the Wolfman, he wasn't howling. He was barking at the moon.

For Ute coach Kyle Whittingham, the trip to ASU had to have been a little exotic. It's not every year his team plays in 100-degree temperatures, as was the case on Saturday. In some ways a game at Sun Devil Stadium is like playing in a satellite dish: big, bowl-shaped and insufferably hot. Maybe the night's most suspenseful moment came when the press box was evacuated after a cooker apparently caught fire, forcing evacuation.

Long ago and far away, these teams were brothers in business, playing in the same Western Athletic Conference. But it wasn't the scanty remnants of a conference the WAC is today. Rather, it was the wild and wooly WAC. The conference had flavor. It had derring-do. And with teams like former coach Frank Kush's nationally ranked Sun Devils, it all seemed a bit dangerous.

Don't the Utes know it. They have won just three of 16 games in Tempe, not counting the 2005 Fiesta Bowl against Pitt.

But the Sun Devils have won nine straight and 11 of 12 against the Utes, including last year when Hays made his first start. Both times the Sun Devils overwhelmed him. Last year Utah had a 14-10 lead in the third quarter, but three straight turnovers ended the suspense. This time it was over long before that.

The appearance of Hays as Utah's quarterback must have seemed strangely familiar to the Sun Devils. For them, it all was getting slightly weird. Saturday marked the fourth consecutive game in which they faced a backup quarterback. Northern Arizona's starter left in the first quarter, while Illinois' and Missouri's starting QBs were out when the Sun Devils played those teams.

It seems ASU has been booking the big acts but getting the warm-up bands.

On Saturday the Utes as a whole looked a lot like a warm-up act.

Email: rock@desnews.com

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