SALT LAKE CITY — If the Utes have their way, by the time you read this they'll already be well on their way to the end zone.
When it comes to buffet lines and/or scoring touchdowns, there's no such thing as starting too early.
With Saturday's 1:30 matchup between TCU and Utah nearly here, the Utes' hope is to score early and often. You know the saying: The early bird catches the worm. And the early-scoring team usually catches the win. This shouldn't be a big issue for the high-powered Utes, but it is — especially this week. Last year, they tied the score at 7-7 in the first quarter against TCU, but that was about it. The Horned Frogs passed Utah like a big rig on the downhill, scoring four touchdowns and a field goal in the second quarter.
Hard to say what would have happened if the Utes had jumped out to a quick and significant lead. But a year later, they still struggle to lift off. Against Pitt, they didn't score in the first quarter, then gave up a touchdown to start the second quarter. Against UNLV, they could only manage a 3-3 tie after one. Against lowly San Jose State, they got an early TD but gave up a field goal to lead just 7-3 after the first quarter.
They trailed 7-0 and 14-10 in the first quarter to Iowa State. They held measly 7-0 leads after the first quarter against Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado State. Against Air Force, the Utes did go ahead 7-0, but before the end of the quarter it was tied.
All totaled, the Utes have scored just 48 first-quarter points this year and only in the Iowa State game did they score more than seven.
Exactly why Utah starts games like Grandpa starts his day is a mystery to many, including coach Kyle Whittingham. Asked if he had any theories on why his team is so tardy, he replied, "No theory on that at all."
Quarterback Jordan Wynn had a similar reaction.
"I can't tell you," he said. "That's the kind of question we have as players."
Whittingham went on to say TCU's scoring numbers are "almost the same" as Utah's, noting that the second quarter is the most productive for both. But TCU is scoring considerably more in the first and fourth quarters — where games are often won.
"No, I don't have an answer," continued Whittingham. "I wish I did."
However, offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom was willing to venture an opinion.
"If you look at our turnover issues, almost all of them — or a big majority — were in the first quarter," he said.
For instance, there was the first-possession fumble at Iowa State, as well as the first-quarter interception. And the fumble on the first possession against New Mexico. Against Pitt, Utah fumbled twice in its first three possessions and against UNLV it fumbled on its second possession.
The Utes threw an interception in the first quarter against Wyoming and fumbled 15 seconds into the second quarter against Colorado State.
No wonder they haven't been scoring quickly.
"I think we've gotten that all corrected," Bergstrom said.
Either way, here comes the biggest game of the year and here come the Utes, hoping to burn rubber as soon as the light turns green.
"This is going to sound a little counterintuitive," said Bergstrom, "but the more you think about it, the worse you do. So if you can just go out and react and play and have fun and play fast, that's when you do well."
Which means the Utes need to be on the clock from the opening kick. No more easing into the action, no more gentle starts. They should be moving at the crack of dawn. That way, they'll be sure to have a couple of touchdowns — when? — say around noonish?
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