It's Sunday morning and time for another edition of Ute Update: The University of Utah played a football game Saturday night in Rice Stadium in front of 31,051 fans, but there is nothing much new to report. There is still no improvement on the Utah offense, now listed in critical but stable condition at Rice Memorial. By now you know the rest of the story. Utah lost. The University of Wyoming, unbeaten and bidding for a national ranking, claimed its fifth consecutive win of the season, and the Utes collected their third consecutive loss.
Score it Wyoming 28, Utah 10.The Utes, up 10-7 at halftime, managed just 98 yards and no points in the second half. The Cowboys, 5-0 and counting, scored three unanswered touchdowns to defeat Utah for the fifth consecutive time.
In the first quarter, Sean Fleming, Wyoming's superb field goal kicker, pulled his left hamstring on a kickoff. It was the best thing that could've happened to the Cowboys. With Fleming unable to kick field goals, the Cowboys were forced to bypass obvious field goal situations on fourth down on four different drives. They converted three of them, and all of them led to touchdowns.
"The injury to Fleming was a major one," said Wyoming coach Paul Roach. "We were helpless on field goal situations. At halftime, we told the team that we were not going to worry about field goals or extra points."
After the game, Utah coach Ron McBride talked things over with his players for some 20 minutes before opening the locker room. The Utes are now 2-3, 0-2 in league play.
"We're still lacking on the offense," said McBride. " . . . It all starts in the front line."
The Utes managed just 216 yards. Mike Richmond completed 14 of 27 passes for 131 yards and was intercepted twice. He also was sacked three times and pressured heavily most of the night.
But give the Wyoming defense much of the credit. Especially end Mitch Donahue, last year's Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. All he did was total seven solo tackles, two assists and all three of the Richmond sacks, which was worth 21 yards in losses. The Utes tried everything to slow Donahue, even double-team blocking, but nothing worked.
"He's going to be playing on Sunday for a lot of years," said Richmond.
"He's a legit player," said McBride. "He's for real."
Still, Donahue's play aside, Saturday's game was the continuation of a trend. The Utes have now scored just four touchdowns in their last 14 quarters of play, and one touchdown in each of their last three games, all of them at home.
The Utes, whose anemic running game (75 yards per game) underscored their offensive problems, tried once again to establish a running game to take the heat off Richmond. They gained all of 69 yards. Steve Abrams, the starting halfback, missed most of the game (he had three rushing attempts) with a muscle strain. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Brad Foster, who gained 47 yards on 16 attempts.
It didn't help that Utah's continually changing offensive line was forced to make another change. Tackle Mike Murray, the team's steadiest blocker, was injured and replaced by Anthony Hall, a converted defensive lineman. James McKenna, a starting guard, was already sidelined with a neck injury.
Nevertheless, the Utes had success running the ball early. Their first four plays of the game were runs, and then Richmond passed to slotback Greg Hoffman. The ball squirted through Hoffman's hands and into the hands of wideout Sean Williams running full tilt heading the opposite direction. Williams raced to the 16-yard line for a 21-yard gain. On third-and-four at the nine, fullback Dean Witkin plowed straight ahead, spun out of one tackle and ran into the end zone. Touchdown. 7-zip.
The Cowboys answered quickly. After Amaicure Harris returned the kickoff 40 yards, quarterback Tom Corontzos passed 16 yards to tight end Gordy Wood and scrambled 10 yards to the Ute 10-yard line. On the next play, Dwight Driver swept around the left end into the end zone. Touchdown. 7-7.
So much for scoring. Neither team could get on the board again until late in the half, and then only because of a gift from the defense - or Corontzos, if you like. Corontzos overthrew his intended receiver on a streak pattern and cornerback Mark Swanson swooped in for the interception at the Utah 25-yard line. His 15-yard return, plus a late-hit penalty, gave Utah the ball at the Wyoming 45 with 3:27 remaining.
The Utes moved into field goal range, thanks to an end around to Sean Hutson for 14 yards and a third-and-eight pass from Richmond to Foster. With 38 seconds remaining in the half, Wayne Lammle kicked a 32-yard field goal to make it 10-7 at halftime.
The Cowboys might easily have tied the score if not for the injury to Fleming. They drove to the Ute 30-yard line with five seconds left in the half, but instead of a sure-thing field goal attempt from Fleming, who has made 10 of 13 attempts this season, they were forced to throw deep and unsuccessfully.
Fleming left the halftime locker room early to practice flat-footed-place kicking, but the results apparently weren't encouraging. When Wyoming found itself faced with a fourth-and-four at the Utah 34 early in the third quarter, they never considered calling on Fleming, who has hit two of three attempts from 50 yards or longer this year. Instead, Corontzos threw to Ryan Yarborough for five yards. On the next play he connected with Robert Rivers for 22 yards. Then on third-and-goal at the 10, Corontzos threw to Wiggins in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Fleming limped onto the field and made a flat-footed, no-approach kick for the PAT to make it 14-10.
That's the way the score stayed until late in the game, when Wyoming again was forced to attempt a fourth-down play because of Fleming's injury. This time it was fourth-and-25 at the Utah 27, and Corontzos passed to Wiggins for eight yards. A few plays later, he passed to tight end Gordy Wood, who caught the ball at the three-yard line and plowed through three tacklers to reach the end zone. That made it 21-10.
Moments later, cornerback Paul Wallace intercepted a Richmond pass to send fans scrambling for the exits. The Cowboys drove upfield, and, after converting a fourth-and-six with a pass to Wiggins, they scored again, this time on a 7-yard run by Dwight Driver with 1:02 left in the game.
The Cowboys finished with 369 yards, most of it (206) on the ground. Driver rushed 21 times for 91 yards and Harris nine times for 75. Corontzos completed 16 of 30 passes for 163 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, most of them to Wood, who made eight catches for 993 yards.
"Coach told us the effort was there, but the belief is gone," said linebacker Pita Tonga. "We didn't respond to adversity. We didn't fight back in the fourth quarter."
Utah - 216 yards total offense, including 98 in the second half.
Mitch Donahue, Wyoming - Seven solo tackles, two assisted, and three sacks for minus-21 yards.
Fourth down conversions - Wyoming converted three of four fourth-down plays - for three touchdowns.