For the first time in nine years the Utah Utes will not play in a bowl game after losing to the Arizona Wildcats Saturday 34-24. Here are three thoughts on what went wrong:
1. Coaching issues. The finger always points at the coach and that is clearly the case in Utah’s loss to Arizona. Kyle Whittingham essentially cost the Utes the game by calling a fake punt that failed with the game tied 24-24 early in the fourth quarter with the ball on their own 39 yard line. With a short field Matt Scott took advantage resulting in a touchdown pass to put the game away for good. Once again you have to question the offensive playcalling particularly in the red zone. Early in the game Brian Johnson once again called a quarterback draw which hasn’t worked all season and then on fourth down and one went with a pitch to John White which resulted in a loss. While the flea-flicker call worked the first time it didn’t the second and once again screen plays were called on third and long situations which hasn’t worked all season as well. On the defensive side of the ball in the third quarter they had to burn a timeout because they had 12 players of the field. Then out of the timeout they were penalized for, you guessed it, 12 players on the field. That is inexcusable. Whittingham has to take complete accountability for the game mismanagement and the inexperienced staff he has put together.
2. Offensive issues. I still believe Utah made the right move turning to freshman quarterback Travis Wilson this season. It’s going to help his future development and even if the Utes went with senior Jon Hays after Jordan Wynn suffered a career ending injury this team would still not have made a bowl. With that said he has been a roller coaster ride. Against Arizona he had an awful fumble but then completed a strike on third and nine with a defender delivering a hit to his midsection. But at the same time he would take off running when in reality he had plenty of time to stay in the pocket. This is what you get in a freshman but he also made some clutch throws and and statistically had his best game of the season. Meanwhile White ran with determination once again and DeVonte Christopher came to play. Too bad it took 11 games into the season to do so but that pretty much explains the inconsistent nature of this offense this year.
3. Defensive issues. This unit also showed their continued inconsistencies. First off they struggled once again in the most basic and important part of playing defense–tackling. If you can’t tackle you’re not going to win. Once again they were burned by a mobile quarterback and against a team that runs the spread. For a unit that has prided itself over the years with speed and athleticism it is clearly lacking that in year two of Pac-12 play particularly at the linebacker position. This team has MWC speed. It now needs to recruit Pac-12 speed. To it’s defense it’s also not helpful when they were put on a short field against one of the best offense’s in the country. That happened twice with the Wilson fumble and the fake punt that failed.