Utah football: Utes battling adversity as season winds down
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
EUGENE, Ore. — Utah’s skid has now reached four games. Saturday’s 44-21 loss at sixth-ranked Oregon has literally knocked the Utes from the high of an upset win over Stanford to a tie for last place in the Pac-12 South with Colorado.
These, simply out, are not the best of times for the guys up on the hill. Adding to the concern is the health of starting quarterback Travis Wilson. He didn’t make the trip to Eugene because of an unspecified head injury. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is expected to make a statement on his condition at his weekly press conference Monday.
At 4-6 overall and 1-6 in Pac-12 play, though, there’s still hope on the horizon — albeit Lloyd Christmas-type optimism. The Utes can achieve bowl eligibility with wins at Washington State Saturday and at home against Colorado the following week.
“As bad as we feel right now and as ticked off as we are, we’ve still got a chance to send the seniors out with an opportunity to play in a bowl game,” Whittingham said. “But Washington State will be a big challenge. They’re improving. Mike Leach has done a great job.”
The Cougars are coming off a 24-17 victory at Arizona and can become bowl eligible for the first time since 2003 with a win over the Utes on Saturday or in their season finale against Washington.
Defensive end Trevor Reilly is confident Utah can find a way to resolve its own situation in a positive manner.
“We’ve got to do it this year,” he said, while noting how the Utes fell short last season and finished 5-7 overall.
Saturday’s lopsided loss, however, was understandably more vivid in his mind before the team departed Autzen Stadium.
“Four of five of their touchdowns, or plays leading up to touchdowns, were on missed assignments,” Reilly said. “That’s just on guys not doing the right thing when they’re supposed to. The scheme was there. Athletically, I thought we were doing pretty decent until the third quarter.”
Utah pulled to within 17-14 early in the second half before Oregon pulled away with 27 straight points. The outburst began with an 86-yard kickoff return for a score by De’Anthony Thomas.
“The KOR was kind of a kick in the gut. But I’m just disappointed that we had the missed assignments,” Reilly said. “Man, that stuff we can control. We gave them four touchdowns basically.”
The Ducks, as usual, worked quickly. All six of their scoring drives took less than three minutes to complete. Three took less than two minutes, and a pair were done in 51 seconds or less.
“Up until the second half of (Saturday) we’ve stood toe-to-toe with everyone we’ve played,” Whittingham said. “The wheels came off in the second half. The wheels come off on a lot of people that Oregon plays.”
The Utes were a bit short-handed. They played without Wilson, linebacker Jared Norris and running back Kelvin York, who were left home because of injuries.
Adam Schulz made his first career start at quarterback. The sophomore completed 13 of 30 passes for 181 yards. He threw and ran for touchdowns, and was intercepted once.
The touchdown throw was a 34-yarder to tight end Jake Murphy late in the second quarter. Murphy was seeing his first action since breaking his wrist against UCLA on Oct. 3.
“Just having him back as a leader and just a personality that he brings to the football team is a positive,” Whittingham said. “We didn’t expect to see him back the rest of the year, so it was a bonus to get him back.”
EXTRA POINTS: Colorado climbed into a fifth-place tie with Utah in the Pac-12 South by defeating California 41-24 on Saturday. ... The Utes limited the Ducks to just 2-of-10 success on third downs. ... Bubba Poole led the Utes with 54 yards rushing. Dres Anderson had a team-high four receptions. Anderson also racked up 89 yards on four kickoff returns. ... Eric Rowe topped Utah with nine tackles. ... The Utes sacked Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota three times. Reilly led the way with 1 1/2. ... Oregon had 10 yards rushing at halftime and finished with 145, well below its average of 301.6 per game.
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