Buoyed by a rare win last week, the University of Utah strutted into Falcon Stadium Saturday morning confident it could handle a
mediocre Air Force team. Then for the next 15 minutes the Utes went into their Keystone Kops Routine - stumbling, fumbling, bumbling - and by the time they escaped town on the evening bus they were 52-21 losers.On the rout scale, it was Iraq marching through Kuwait; Buster Douglas at the Mirage; Bruce Willis and the bad guys. The game was barely 15 minutes old when Air Force took a 38-0 lead, thanks to one fumble recovery, two interceptions, one blocked punt and one muffed punt. By halftime it was 45-7. Early in the third quarter it was 52-7.
And all of it was televised live in Salt Lake City for your viewing pleasure. "Maybe they had a power outage back home," said Utah athletic director Chris Hill, hopefully.
The game was so out of hand in the third quarter that it was dangerous to stand near an exit. There was a traffic jam in the parking lot. The P.A. announcer, who in the first half announced the attendance as 40,798, made a second-half update: "We've had a change in the attendance. It's 10,042."
"I kept looking up at the scoreboard, and I couldn't believe it was still the first quarter," said Falcon linebacker J.T. Tokish.
"We were shocked at halftime," said Ute wideout Bryan Rowley.
The rout could have been worse if Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, an avid and active Christian, hadn't shown true mercy by playing his second string part of the second quarter and much of the second half. Perhaps he was trying to preserve a tradition. After each score, Air Force cadets rush out of the stands and onto the field to perform one pushup for each Air Force point. By the end of the day they had performed a total of 226 pushups. P.E. classes have been canceled Monday.
After the game, reporters entered the dead quiet Ute locker room - someone called it a viewing - to hear the eulogy. "That was the worst #%&!*#!!! I've ever seen," said Ute coach Ron McBride. "There was nothing on the Utah side. The offense, the defense, special teams and the coaches weren't worth a darn today."
Things aren't likely to improve for the Utes anytime soon. Next week they play a road game against San Diego State, a team that thumped Air Force 48-18. The Aztecs will have had two bye weeks to prepare for Utah.
For the record, the Falcons, who have beaten Utah six consecutive times, are 4-4 overall, 2-3 in conference play. The Utes are 3-5/1-4 and counting.
On the bright side, basketball season begins next week.
"We spotted Air Force four touchdowns," said McBride. "After that, it was a football game." Of Air Force's first six possessions, five of them began inside the Ute 37-yard line. In a wrap, here's what happened on those memorable first six possessions:
- On the third play of the game, Mike Richmond tried to throw to Sean Hutson. Unfortunately for Richmond, Hutson was in another county. The pass went directly to cornerback Shanon Yates at the 25-yard line. Rob Perez scored on a 9-yard option keeper. Score: 7-0.
- On fourth down, Wayne Lammle tried to punt, but before his foot even struck the ball he was overtake by, among others, Jason Bowers, who recovered the ball at the 14. Two plays later, Perez scored on the keeper again from 14 yards out. Score: 14-0 and counting. The game wasn't quite four minutes old yet.
- Wideout Darrel Hicks was wide open streaking up the middle, but Richmond's pass, thrown into the wind, was short, and Yate made his second interception, returning the ball nine yards to the 36. Joe Wood made a 49-yard field goal. Score: 17-0. The game was about 61/2 minutes old.
- Richmond was dropping back to pass when he was hit by Clifton Lovelace and fumbled. Tony Cates recovered at the 26. Three plays later DeShawn Durham scored on a 2-yard run with 6:34 left in the first quarter. Score: 24-0.- The Utes finally cross midfield and moved to the Air Force 23, thanks to two penalties, but then they gave it back by committing two penalties of their own. Lammle's 47-yard field goal attempt was short. The Falcons marched 71 yards in a mere four plays, all on the ground, with Rodney Lewis scoring on a 12-yard run.
- The Utes did their usual three-and-out routine, and Lammle's punt floated five yards, to the Utah 35-yard line. The quarter ended with Air Force on the two-yard line. Dan Zdroik scored on a two-yard on the next play. Score: 38-0.
DeBerry then sent his second team offense onto the field, but by the time that unit came off the field he was throwing a fit - and his hat - over a delay-of-game penalty. Imagine. The Falcons are writing War and Peace and the coach is mad because somebody didn't cross a T. After Utah answered with its only touchdown of the half, DeBerry sent his starters back to work, and they marched 80 yards in 11 plays, with Lewis scoring on a 1-yard run. Score: 45-7. The Falcons opened the second half with another score - Chris Howard on a 1-yard run - to make it 52-7.
Utah's only scores were a pair of 1-yard runs by fullback Steve Abrams and a fourth-quarter, 48-yard touchdown pass from Richmond to Hicks.
If there was one Ute who played well Saturday, surely it was Rowley, who caught 11 passes all season, grabbed 10 passes for 169 yards - much of it with his own diehard running.
"They played their normal defense - three deep with soft coverage underneath," said Rowley, meaning he was free much of the afternoon to grab the short passes.
On Utah's one scoring drive of the first half, Rowley took one pass for 33 yards. Three plays later he made a one-handed grab of an overthrown pass and broke four tackles to turn what should have been an incompletion into a 34-yard gain. On the Utes' opening possession of the second half, Rowley broke several tackles to turn two catches into 32 yards. But the Utes were stopped on fourth down at the six-yard line.
For his part, Richmond had a respectable day - once the first quarter was finished. He completed 26 of 50 passes for 359 yards, but his most memorable passes were the interceptions.
On the first interception, there was a mixup between Richmond and slotback Sean Hutson. "I assumed he was going to hook up, but he kept going upfield," said Richmond. "He made the right decision. It was my fault." On the second interception, Richmond simply underthrew the pass.
"We put the defense bad position early," he said. "We didn't help the defense out there."
And the defense needed all the help it could get in stopping the Air Force option, which has given the Utes fits over the years. The Utes employed a new defense to try to stop the Falcons, bagging their normal five defensive backs and four down linemen for four DBs and five linemen. That defense survived one quarter.
"We got thrown in a hole the first part of the game," said linebacker Preston Christensen. "Then we went back to our old defense."
Air Force finished with season highs for total offense (448), rushing yardage (403) and points. Fullback Rodney Lewis rushed for 131 yards on just nine attempts and a bad knee. Perez ran 10 times for 74 yards.
"After last week, we were confident today," said Rowley. "I thought we had a good shot to win. Now we've just got to forget about this game."
That may be easier said than done.
Catching On - Bryan Rowley had 10 receptions
Catching On - Bryan Rowley had 10 receptions for 169 yards.
Miscues - Five of Air Force's first six possesions began on Utah's 25-14-36-26-and 35 yard-lines thanks to one fumble recovery, two interceptions, one blocked punt and one muffed punt. All of the Ute turnovers led directly to five touchdowns and one field goal giving the Falcons an early 38-0 lead.
Roughshod Running - Air Force's Rodney Lewis rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns on just 9 carries, good for a 14.6 yards per rush average.