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Brad Rock: When it rains, it pours — Ute loss goes from bad to worse

Published: Saturday, Sept. 5 2015 8:59 a.m. MDT

CORVALLIS, ore. — University of Utah publicist Liz Abel was grim as she announced the news: a likely shoulder separation for quarterback Brian Johnson. Then then there was that other little nugget: a reported broken leg for running back Matt Asiata.
Not to mention a season-opening 24-7 loss to Oregon State.
What, no typhoid outbreak?
Hang on. The season's not over yet.
Or maybe it is.
There have been worse days for the Utes, somewhere back in time, when injuries came in cloudburst. But Thursday was a doozy. It hurt them where they live — in the heart.
Before they've even broken a sweat? Hard as it is to imagine — didn't the season just start yesterday? — the Utes are already in choppy waters. Don't plan on any championships this year. Here it comes, a season of adversity. Again.
Off to a nice start in his major college career, Asiata was carted off in the first quarter with the teams locked in a scoreless tie. If early reports hold, his season is over. But that might have been only the second-worst news of the night for the Utes. Things got seriously dark in the late second quarter when Johnson left with his injury. He'll probably be gone 3-4 weeks. Who knows where the Utes will be by then.
Suddenly, backup Tommy Grady — relegated to backup duty ever since transferring from Oklahoma — became the coaching staff's new best friend.
Welcome to Adversity Central. Problems? Yeah, they have problems. Now the Utes can see if all that rhetoric all teams employ really works. They can look forward to spending the next few weeks employing the best of the rest. It's not ideal, but it'll have to do.
By the way, anyone know if Brett Ratliff is available to help out for a game or two?
Difference is, Ratliff came on in 2005 at season's end. This year the Utes have a long, long, loooong road ahead. When when Johnson was injured in 2005, Ratliff pulled off wins over BYU and Georgia Tech. He ended the year looking like a comic book superhero.
Now it's going to be Grady's turn.
Although Thursday's season-opener was widely considered a serious challenge for the Utes — especially since the Beavers were ranked in some preseason polls — beating them wasn't an insurmountable obstacle. In fact, Utah has had little problem with Pac-10 teams in recent years.
You might say they've been auditioning for admission.
What better way to say you want in their conference than to beat everyone you see? The Utes even took a 7-0 lead in the early second quarter on Thursday. That, though, was when it started to rain — but only figuratively. OSU tied the score before the half, Johnson got hurt on the next series, and that was it. A third-quarter OSU touchdown, a field goal, and the Utes were cooked.
If undermanned and overwrought, that doesn't mean the Utes didn't try. In fact, they showed considerable resolve. But two first downs in the third quarter and a non-existent rushing game doomed their effort.
Things won't get much easier. They now have their conference opener next week against Air Force, followed by a contest against nationally ranked UCLA.
When it rains, it pours.
It doesn't take a trip to Oregon to understand that.
The Utes didn't do much to endear themselves to the OSU crowd when, after warming up, they huddled at midfield for a meeting. Suddenly, boos rained down, 20 minutes before kickoff. The problem: they had covered the Beaver mascot in the middle of the field — which went over in Oregon like a nuclear leak.
They then took the lead on a 36-yard pass from Johnson to Brent Casteel, who immediately drew a celebration penalty for mugging in the end zone.
But in the end, it seemed, even the slightly annoyed, pro-OSU crowd seemed to understand. It wasn't the Utes' day. It might not even be their year.
Rain happens.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com

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