MISSING: One offense. Red and white. Able to score at will. Last seen in November 1989. Report soonest to the University of Utah Lost and Found Dept. Or just send Scott Mitchell. Reward offered. Contact Ron McBride.
The football season is four games old now, and one thing has become clear: The University of Utah's formerly great offense has gone south - to Miami, to be precise. On Saturday night, in front of 29,140 fans in Rice Stadium, the Utes stumbled and sputtered and stammered on offense - and finally lost 19-7 to Hawaii in their first conference game of the season.The Utes scored on their second possession of the game and were never heard from again.
Meanwhile, the 'Bows made their move. They were nursing a 3-0 lead when they rallied for 10 points in the final 3:23 of the half - on a one-yard run by quarterback Garrett Gabriel and a 22-yard field goal by Jason Elam. That made it 13-7 at halftime.
Then came the game-clincher. On the first play of the fourth quarter, on third-and-eight, Gabriel lofted a soft pass down the sideline to 5-foot-7 Jeff Sydner. The pass was underthrown. Sydner slowed to come back for the ball, but his defender, safety Sharrieff Shah, did not. Sydner caught the pass at the 40 and raced to the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown play.
Gabriel managed to complete 18 of 28 passes for 328 yards and one touchdown, but heaven knows where he would have been without his slotbacks - Dane McArthur and Sydner, who totaled 15 catches and 228 yards between them.
"19 points," said Ute coach Ron McBride. "That's not much."
But it is these days. With the loss of quarterback Scott Mitchell to the NFL draft and the Miami Dolphins, the Utes, one of the country's most prolific offenses in recent years, have never been the same. They have managed just three touchdowns in their last 10 quarters of play - including one in each of their past two gams. On Saturday, they produced just 312 yards.
"You're not going to win many football games with seven points," said McBride. "We've got to find a way offensively to make things happen."
For the fourth time in four games, the Utes started a different quarterback. This time it was junior Mike Richmond, who completed 21 of 38 passes for 245 yards and went the distance. He had a rough night, to be sure. He threw balls into the turf, lobbed weak passes into the secondary and his interception was a mystery play. But in fairness, Richmond didn't have much help. The Utes had no ground game,again (116 yards). Richmond was pressured (four sacks). Passes were dropped. There were fumbles.
"We've got to score when we get inside the 30 or 20," said wideout Darrel Hicks. "It's as simple as that."
The Utes squandered such opportunities. They took their opening possession of the game and marched all the way to the Hawaii 15-yard line, where halfback Charlie Brown fumbled and Hawaii's Nuuanu Kaulia recovered.
With seconds left in the first half, Richmond connected with tight end Mike Anglesey for a 32-yard gain to Hawaii's 21-yard line. But two plays later, Richmond, under heavy pressure, underthrew Hicks and was intercepted by cornerback Kim McCloud in the end zone. No touchdown, no field goal.
"We told him to throw into the corner, or if he got any pressure, to throw it out," said McBride. "We threw away 10 points right there (counting Brown's fumble)."
Trailing 3-0 on Elam's 50-yard field goal, the Utes answered back on their second possession with their only touchdown of the night. Richmond scrambled for 23 yards, passed to Anglesey for 25, and then halfback Brad Foster scored on a 1-yard run. Score: 7-3.
Then the offense went to sleep. On their next five possessions of the half, the Utes managed just two first downs.
The Utes stayed in the game only because of a solid defensive showing. In the first quarter, the 'Bows drove to the Utah 16, but then defensive end Keith Embray hit Gabriel just as he was pitching on the option play. The pitch went to the turf and was recovered by Shah at the Hawaii 16. On Hawaii's next series, fullback Richard Stevenson fumbled and noseguard Greg Reynolds recovered at midfield. Hawaii's next possession ended when linebacker Anthony Davis, who finished with 11 tackles, sacked Gabriel for a 10-yard loss.
The Utes showed signs of life in the third quarter. Wideout Bryan Rowley made one of his now-patented, perfectly timed, leaping grabs over a defender for a 51-yard pass play at midfield. But again the Utes came up empty.
They weren't done yet. The Utes drove to the Hawaii nine-yard line in the fourth quarter, thanks to a 15-yard run by halfback Steve Abrams on fourth-and-one. But on fourth down at the nine, Richmond, under pressure, threw a pass intended for Sean Hutson into the turf to end matters right there.
"I'm disappointed," said Richmond. "The defense played great. We moved the ball at times, but just sputtered to a stop."
Richmond said he expects he will retain the starting job for next week's game against Wyoming. He got a vote of confidence from the boss.
"It looked to me like Mike did a pretty good job," said McBride.
"It's a new offense," said Rowley. "Everyone is trying to get used to it. We're going to get it going."
In the meantime, the Utes are 2-2 overall and 0-1 in league play. The Rainbows, who have now beaten Utah five consecutive times, are 1-2/1-1.
"We were real hungry for a win," said Hawaii coach Bob Wagner. "0-2 was foreign territory for us."
Mike Richmond - Completed 21 of 38 passes for 245 yards and 1 interception.
Anthony Davis - Had 11 tackles.