Brad Rock: Utes exposed as a good, not great football team

Published: Sunday, Oct. 4 2015 10:32 p.m. MDT

FORT WORTH — Allll-righty, then.

At least we know this much: Utah really wasn't that good.

And TCU really is.

The Utes' Fantasyland ride ended Saturday night at the hands of a TCU team that left no doubt that things have changed. Last season, the Utes won a thriller over the Horned Frogs on their way to an undefeated season. This year, different story entirely.

It took awhile, but finally the Utes were exposed for what they are: a pretty decent little team. (That's a mouthful, when you consider they lost 55-28.)

Anything else will have to wait for another year.

TCU, meanwhile, can go ahead and shoot for a BCS bowl. All it has left on the schedule are Wyoming and New Mexico, which is like saying the only thing between a Doberman and a raw steak is its conscience.

"I really feel like they could be No. 1," said Ute linebacker Stevenson Sylvester. "They're a train that can't be stopped right now."

For the Horned Frogs, this is the year. The powers that be in the Mountain West Conference can relax. Things are as they should be. TCU — clearly the league's best team — is on track for a big bowl, Utah and BYU are headed for the leftovers. Meanwhile, the conference continues making good progress toward automatic BCS acceptance, sometime after the 2011 season ends.

The Utes can go back to the drawing board.

Most of the focus surrounding Saturday's game, at least as far as Utah was concerned, involved the inexperience of freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn. Which made sense. He had only 1 1/2 games under his belt. That wasn't lost on either the media or the TCU fans. As one sign, hanging from a window on campus, said: "We Ref-UTE Your Attempt to Wynn."

Clever, not to mention accurate.

Wynn finished with a so-so 16-of-32 passing for 219 yards and an interception.

Meantime, interest in the game was higher than it has been for TCU in decades. Saturday's attendance was 50,307 — Amon G. Carter Stadium's largest crowd ever and only its third sellout in the last 25 years.

Despite some oddsmakers having the Horned Frogs favored by nearly three touchdowns, there was always that element of doubt. After all, Utah was 5-1 all-time against the Frogs. The only loss was a 23-20 OT defeat on a disputed play in 2005. The Utes remain the only team in the Mountain West with a winning record against TCU.

Yet despite an 8-1 record, and a No. 14 ranking going into the game, the Utes have seemed dubious all season. There's a reason for that. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

Underlying all that was the suspicion the Utes weren't as pretty as their record would indicate — an average looking girl with a lot of good makeup. Lose the eye shadow, mascara and lipstick and what do you have? Plain Jane. Or take off the helmet, shoulder pads and biceps bands, and what have you got?

A regular Joe with a decent haircut.

Realistically, this should have been an eight-win season.

As it turned out, Wynn wasn't Utah's biggest problem. TCU was. The Frogs were faster, smarter, better. Additionally, the Utes fumbled on a kickoff, drew several stupid penalties, allowed a blocked punt, gave up 110 yards in penalties and generally acted like a yahoo team from a yahoo conference.

TCU, on the other hand, looked like a big-time team headed for a big-fish bowl.

There were moments, of course, when Wynn looked every bit the wide-eyed freshman. He threw an interception that went for a touchdown and a 35-7 TCU lead in the second quarter. Other times he held the ball too long and had to bail out.

Still, the Ute defense didn't stop either the run or the pass. In their good moments, the Utes looked out-manned; in their worst, they looked ill-prepared.

Curiously, the loss actually illustrated the fact Ute coach Kyle Whittingham has probably outdone himself this year, somehow piecing together a good enough team that, for awhile, had people wondering.

Not really wondering, but kinda.

Asked if he could see such a loss coming, Sylvester said, "No. No. I feel like we can play with any team in the country, and suffering a loss like this is just really bad."

It's just that seeing yourself in the mirror can sometimes be terribly shocking.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com

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