Utes Doomed By Awful Second Half In Holiday Bowl Loss To Northwestern

Dec 31, 2018, 8:46 PM | Updated: 8:58 pm
Marquise Blair #13 of the Utah Utes tackles Flynn Nagel #2 of the Northwestern Wildcats on a kickof...
Marquise Blair #13 of the Utah Utes tackles Flynn Nagel #2 of the Northwestern Wildcats on a kickoff return during the first half of The San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl at SDCCU Stadium on December 31, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Things looked good for Utah after the first half of the Holiday Bowl. Then the second half happened and the game belonged to Northwestern as the Wildcats rolled to a 31-20 victory over the Utes.

The loss snapped a four-game bowl game winning streak for Utah and was just the second loss ever in a bowl game by Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. All time, Whittingham holds a bowl record of 11-2.

Utes Get Off To Hot Start

The scoring got started at the 5:48 mark of the first quarter when Jason Shelley found Jaylen Dixon for a 27-yard touchdown strike. Matt Gay nailed the PAT to put Utah up 7-0.

On Utah’s next possession, Shelley found Jake Jackson for a 4-yard score to boost Utah’s lead to 14-0 after another Gay PAT.

Northwestern found the scoreboard with a 21-yard field goal by Charlie Kuhbander near the halfway mark of the second quarter.

The Utes would respond with a field goal of their own, as Gay nailed a 32-yarder with about four minutes remaining.

Following an interception by Marquise Blair, the Utes got the ball back and marched down the field and kicked another field goal, this one from 20 yards to take a 20-3 halftime lead.

The Utes dominated the rushing game in the first half, outgaining the Wildcats 88 to -6 in yardage on the ground.

A Tale Of Two Halves

Then the second half happened and it was a whole different ball game.

The Utes committed four turnovers in the third quarter and allowed 28 straight points by the Wildcats.

The miserable period began on the first drive of the second half, Jason Shelley was intercepted by Northwestern’s Blake Gallagher. Northwestern took over the ball on their 44-yard line.

The Wildcats quickly scored just two plays later on a 4-yard pass by Clayton Thorson to Riley Lees. That play was set up by a 52-yard gain on a pass by Thorson to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman on the first play of the drive.

After both teams exchanged punts on their next possessions, the Utes were marching down the field when Shelley was strip-sacked in the red zone. The Wildcats’ Jared McGee picked up the ball and took it 82 yards to the house to cut the deficit to 20-17.

With the ball back, the Utes again fumbled on the next drive, just three plays into it. Shelley completed a 25-yard pass to Jaylen Dixon who then fumbled it and allowed Northwestern to return it the Utah 31-yard line.

Just two plays later, Thorson found Trey Klock for a 20-yard touchdown strike and just like that, the Wildcats had a 24-20 lead with 4:39 remaining in the third quarter.

After a quick 3-and-out by Utah, Northwestern expanded its lead with a 8-yard lead by Lees to put the Wildcats up 31-20.

Utah added to its misery with another interception to end the fourth quarter.

After that awful quarter by Utah was over, the Wildcats, whose running game was dormant all game, managed to effectively run over the clock and give Utah little chance to recover.

To add insult to injury, the Utes would turn the ball over twice more before the game was over.

Turnovers Were The Difference

Though many of the stats in the final box score were comparable, the different was in the turnovers. Utah committed six giveaways in the game while the Wildcats turned the ball over just once.

Utes Played Shorthanded

The Utes may have missed several key players in the game. Senior linebacker and first-team All-Pac-12 selection Chase Hansen missed the game, as did junior quarterback Tyler Huntley, who had been out since Utah’s loss to Arizona State earlier in the season. Both were game-time decisions.

Final Records

Utah finished the season with a 9-5 record, while Northwestern concluded its season with the same record following the bowl win.


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