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Utes Didn’t Show Up For Biggest Game In Program History, But Why?

Wide receiver Samson Nacua #45 of the Utah Utes catches a touchdown pass over safety Jevon Holland #8 of the Oregon Ducks during the second half of the Pac-12 Championship Game at Levi's Stadium on December 06, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, UtahΒ – The chances are that Utah was simply outplayed and outcoached, hence resulting in a heartbreaking loss to the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game. Although, we conspiracy theorists may think otherwise.

Utah’s roster does not lack skill, speed, strength or intelligence. To say that Utah was outmatched from a skilled perspective is wrong. Both teams had athletes that could inflict serious damage to one and other, it would be wrong to suggest that Oregon had more.

Tyler Huntley is a Heisman finalist darkhorse, Zack Moss is the best running back West of the Mississipi and the Utah defense ranks amongst the nations best.

Oregon has an NFL first-round talent at quarterback and a run game that is incredibly versatile. While their defense also suffocates most opponents, until they visit the state of Arizona, and then they forget what to do.

I have a number of reasons to believe Utah was their own worst enemy. A number of reasons to suggest the collapse was coming, as shocking as that may have sounded just a week ago.

Locker Room Bullet Pin Material

Utah for weeks had locker room bullet pin material that helped inspire and energize the team. From the UCLA wide receiver suggesting that the Bruins were a more physical team to Paul Finebaum’s comments suggesting that Utah did not belong in the college football playoff.

Did the countless weeks of bullet pin material finally wear off and distract the Utes from the task at hand – beating the Ducks?

If you were to have walked into the locker room at any point during the buildup to the title game, you would have seen the comments made by Paul Finebaum being played on repeat on any television set you could find, in the attempt to help motivate the playing group.

“Oklahoma is getting in because let’s be honest, the country does not want to see Utah in the college football playoff. I’m sorry, but I mean, it’s Utah!” Finebaum said while appearing on ESPN’s morning talk show Get Up.

I understand why the decision was made to blast those comments all over the football facility. The same thing occurred back in 2015 when I was on the team and some magazine from Ann Arbor, Michigan called Utah “cupcakes” weeks prior to the season opener against the Wolverines. Pieces of paper with the word “cupcakes” and a photo of a cupcake were blasted on every wall the football facility had to offer.

It worked, Utah would go on and beat Michigan 24-17, giving head coach Jim Harbaugh his first loss during his first game in charge of the Wolverines.

Was their too much pressure placed on this football team to go out and create history. Was the disrespect shown by Finebaum too much of a distraction for young adults to handle and ultimately took the attention away from the task at hand?

It is a long shot and like I mentioned earlier, probably not the reason behind the loss. However, one must question the impact and additional stress that constant locker room bulletin pin material has on a team filled with 18-25-year-olds.

First Drive Stalled

During the opening drive of the game, Utah found themselves moving the football down the field. Tyler Huntley completed a pass to Derrick Vickers who appeared to cross the first down marker and give Utah a new set of downs.

Instead, the referees spotted the ball a yard short and despite having chances on third and fourth down to pick up just a yard, Utah failed to do so and turned the ball over on downs.

What should have been a new set of downs, instead resulted in a turnover and a change in possession, ultimately giving Oregon all the momentum early in the game.

Following the conclusion of the game, Head Coach Kyle Whittingham said, “In hindsight, I wish I had of challenged the spot of the ball following the second down play on the opening drive of the game. It looked like a first down, but it was marked a yard short.”

Who knows what could have been if Utah was granted the first down or if they could have picked up the one-yard required on third and fourth down. Unfortunately, we will never know what could have been.

I have been fortunate, I have been able to witness Utah’s every move on the sideline this year. The momentum shifts throughout every game certainly play a big factor when determining the outcome of any football game.

After the change of possession on the opening drive, the Utah sideline became deflated. The energy dropped and the head-scratching began. It was the start of a very painful night in northern California.

Targeting Or Lack Thereof

I have already written an article on the two no-calls during the first half after two different Oregon defenders made helmet-to-helmet collisions with Tyler Huntley on two separate occasions but were not penalized accordingly.

It makes no sense. With so much on the line, that referees can have such drastic implications on the outcome of games. We are trying to protect the players, the NCAA says on repeat. I do not believe it. How could you?

The video below was deemed not to be targeting. Which is defined-

(a) A player takes aim at an opponent for the purposes of attacking with
forcible contact with the crown of the helmet.
(b) An indicator of targeting is present.
2. Rule 9-1-4:
(a) A defenseless opponent (Rule 2-27-14).
(b) A player takes aim at a defenseless opponent for the purposes of
attacking with forcible contact to the head or neck area.
(c) An indicator of targeting is present.

According to rule 9-1-3 in the 2019 NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations Handbook.

It. Makes. No. Sense.

Despite the what-ifs and conspiracy theories, the 2019 Utah Football team was special. It was full of NFL talent seniors who helped to make my job interesting and fun.