Let's see if we can get this straight now. In the University of Utah's latest outing, this one against Colorado State Saturday in Fort Collins, quarterback Mike Richmond was benched in favor of Jason Woods (remember him?), but no one's sure which one actually spent the most time on his rear end. Tight end Mike Anglesey had a career day, which was surprising considering he spent the week practicing to be a fullback in case Dean Witkin didn't recover from a headache. Anthony Davis, the team's star linebacker, also was injured, so the Utes replaced him with, uh, let's see, about four guys, which seemed about right.
But after all the shuffling and reshuffling, the results were the same. Utah lost its fourth consecutive game. Score this one Colorado State 22, Utah 13.The opponents change, but the story remains the same. Utah's offense, cursed by turnovers, sacks, penalties and a soft running attack (you know, all the usual), came up short again. No one could blame the defense if it picketed Rice Stadium this morning for better working conditions, health benefits and a new offense. This time the Utes allowed 22 points, seven of which were a gift from Utah's offense - a fumble deep in their own territory.
The Utes were down only 10-6 at halftime, but, as Ute Coach Ron McBride likes to say, "A defense can only hold up so long," especially when the offense isn't scoring. The Rams scored two third-quarter touchdowns, and any thoughts of a Ute comeback were killed by two fourth-quarter interceptions.
"We had our chances," said McBride, whose team is now 2-4 overall and 0-3 in Western Athletic Conference play.
"That was an important win for us," said CSU coach Earle Bruce. "We stay in the title chase. It's getting tighter all the time."
The Rams, 4-2 and 3-0, next meet BYU in Provo Saturday in a battle between two of the WAC's three remaining unbeaten teams.
The Rams, led by the Mike Gimenez-Kevin Verdugo quarterbck duo and the Tony Alford-Brian Copeland-Todd Yert running trio, rolled up 444 yards against Utah on Saturday.
But Utah's offense was the story of the day. Again. The Utes ran off only 58 plays to CSU's 101, which is what comes from gaining a mere 42 yards rushing. At least the Utes did manage more than one touchdown in a game for the first time in a month. That makes seven touchdowns in their last 18 quarters of play.
Not that the Utes haven't been trying to cure their offensive problems. During the week, McBride kept the offensive line on the field for 20 minutes after practice working on fundamentals.
The Utes also made one major offensive change. For the fifth time in six games, they switched starting quarterbacks. This time they benched Richmond, the starter in the two previous games, and replaced him with Woods, the opening-day starter. As late as Thursday afternoon, McBride was saying that Richmond was still the starter. But on Friday evening, the Ute coaches changed their minds.
"Mike was pretty beat up in the last game," said McBride. "He just needs a little rest. Jason is the healthier of the two, and he played well in practice."
Woods completed 13 of 30 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked seven times, spending a vast portion of the day staring up at the sky.
"I thought he showed signs of becoming a real good quarterback," said McBride. "He has limited experience. He's going to get better."
Woods completed five of his first six passes - and only eight of his last 24. Of his three interceptions, one was a deflection off the receiver's hands. He also was under considerable pressure during the day, although he shared part of the blame there. He scrambled prematurely on several occasions, failing to let things develop downfield.
Still, McBride said, "The offensive line just doesn't pick up things."
Woods, who was high and wide much of the afternoon with his passes, also made at least two brilliant plays during the day, under pressure, both for touchdowns. On the Utes' first posession, he completed a pass to Anglesey for 21 yards. Then he found the team's designated long-man, split end Brian Rowley, on the post pattern. Rowley made a diving grab at the 11-yard line for a 37-yard gain. Two plays later, Woods stepped back to pass and, knowing he was about to be buried by the rush, unloaded a strike to Rowley slanting across the middle for the touchdown. Wayne Lammle's PAT kick hit the post, leaving the score 7-6.
Woods' other shining moment came early in the fourth quarter, with the Utes down 22-6. On the two previous plays, with his feet set, Woods had thrown wide of open receivers, but on third down, with Donovan Gans and Bert Stratman bearing down on him, Woods was deadly while still in a backpedal. He lofted a long spiral toward Anglesey, but that was the last he saw of it before getting knocked to the ground. "The last thing I saw was No. 92 (Gans)," he said. Anglesey never had to break stride while completing a 72-yard touchdown play.
The Woods-to-Anglesey connection was the Utes' most effective play of the day, and that was precisely the plan. "We saw something on film," said Woods. "In certain formations they like to play certain guys on the tight end that we thought we could take advantage of."
Anglesey caught five passes for 162 yards, but if that was the plan, nobody had told him. "I didn't even practice at tight end this week," said Anglesey. "I filled in at running back."
That's because the team's starting running backs - Steve Abrams (thigh) and Dean Witkin (concussion) - were both ailing. Witkin wound up playing, but Abrams was replaced by freshman Brad Foster, who rushed 17 times for 67 yards.
"We're just not there on offense," said McBride.
As for defense, McBride said, "I'm proud as hell of the defense. They battled, battled, battled, and we're out there with second and third guys."
Indeed, the Utes played without three defensive starters on Saturday - Davis (sprained ankle), safety Sharrieff Shah (thumb), and tackle Greg Reynolds (knee). Another inside linebacker, Pita Tonga, also was in and out of the lineup with an injury, as were defensive backs Mark Swanson, Derrick Odum and LaVon Edwards. The Utes wound up shuffling seven players in and out at the two linebacker positions alone.
"When we don't have our one guy (Davis and Tonga) in there, we have to use different guys for different situations," said defensive coordinator Greg McMackin.
Still, Utah's played well enough to win, despite a poor start.
Like the Utes, the Rams tinkered with their lineup Saturday. Gimenez, the running half of their 1-2 quarterback duo, was given the starting call over Verdugo, the better passer of the two, for the first time since opening day. The reason was simple: the Rams planned to run against the Utes, and there was no use making a secret about it. After all, a year ago they ran for 449 yards in a 50-10 rout of the Utes.
The Rams took their opening possession of the game and assembled an intermidable 19-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that was 7:41 in the making. Yert scored on a one-yard run. But the Rams were held to just one more score - a 35-yard field goal by Mike Brown - the remainder of the half.
The Rams finally scored again in the third quarter on a five-yard run by Copeland. They scored again late in the third quarter thanks to a Ute turnover. Robert Chirico sacked Woods and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Eric Schaller at the Ute 32. A short time later Alford ran 11 yards for a touchdown.
"We need a rest now," said McMackin, surveying his beat up defense. The Utes will get one. They have a bye this week.