SALT LAKE CITY — In its last game, two weeks earlier in Provo, the Utah football team cruised to an easy victory thanks to a boatload of turnovers and came into its home Pac-12 opener ranked third in the country in turnover margin.
So what did the Utes do Saturday against Washington?
They served up a plateful of turnovers to their visitors, turning their first-ever Pac-12 game at Rice-Eccles Stadium into a rout for the visiting Huskies.
Sure you could say the Utes were let down by the injury to Jordan Wynn, the inability to run the ball and a porous defense in the second half. But if you ask coach Kyle Whittingham, he points to turnovers as the main factor in the loss.
"We say over and over and over, the most important stat in football other than the final score is the turnover margin," Whittingham said. "Five turnovers — you can't do that. We're minus-4 against a quality team and that's not going to work.
It took the Utes about five seconds to hand the ball over to the Huskies as Ryan Lacy fumbled while being tackled on the opening kickoff, gift-wrapping a touchdown for the Huskies as Jamaal Kearse picked up the loose ball ran it in from 18 yards.
"We started the game off in the worst possible scenario, fumbling the opening kickoff," Whittingham said.
While that had to be deflating to the Utes, they still came back to tie the score at 7-7 and had a couple of chances to go ahead.
However, the Utes twice lost the ball inside the 10-yard line in the second quarter when they had a chance to take the lead, first on a poorly thrown pass by Wynn that Sean Parker picked off at the 4-yard line. Then six minutes later, freshman receiver Dres Anderson fumbled after catching a pass at the 6-yard line. If the Utes scored there, it could have been 21-7 and a different ballgame.
"We moved the ball well in the first half, we just didn't have points to show for it and scoring points is the name of the game," said Whittingham. "Taking care of the football is job one and we didn't do that tonight."
Despite three first-half turnovers, the Utes were only down 10-7 at halftime, but backup quarterback Jon Hays had two turnovers in the second half as the game got away from the Utes.
The first came on a long pass on Utah's second possession of the second half when Washington's Gregory Ducre made a nice play on the sideline at the UW 48-yard line. Then later, after a 63-yard Hays-to-DeVonte Christopher pass put the Utes at the UW 17, a flustered Hays tried to pass while getting sacked and coughed up the football.
"I made some key mistakes," said Hays. "I just have to prepare better during the week and execute better when I have an opportunity."
Whittingham has no answer to how a team can take seven turnovers one game and then give up five the next.
"Turnovers are a funny deal," he said. "It's tough to make rhyme or reason out of them sometimes."
They just weren't funny to the Utes Saturday night.