PK: Utah Football Faces Reality Check Following Loss To Oregon Ducks

Oct 28, 2023, 5:14 PM

Utah Utes Oregon Ducks football...

Utah Utes safety Sione Vaki (28) tries to block a pass by Oregon Ducks quarterback Bo Nix (10) in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. 9Photo courtesy of Deseret News)


SALT LAKE CITY – Reality hit hard, but not surprisingly, and along the way most likely dashed the dreams for an unprecedented three consecutive conference championship for Utah Football.

Billed as a separation game between the pretenders and contenders, the Oregon Ducks proved they belong in the hunt for this year’s Pac-12 title. The Ducks (7-1, 4-1) all but eliminated Utah from the race, winning 35-6 on Saturday afternoon before a crowd of 53,586 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which was the third largest ever behind the opener against Florida this season and the thriller over USC last October.

The cold truth is the Utes don’t have enough weapons to upset the favored Ducks, whose only loss came by three points to undefeated Washington in Seattle. The point is not to blast the Utes, but rather to put it into perspective that the current version of the team isn’t good enough at this time.

“They took it to us,” said coach Kyle Whittingham, who thought the game was more one-sided than the score indicated. “We really didn’t do much of anything in the game.”

All you need to know is Utah’s best play came on special teams, when Mikey Matthews caught a kickoff in the end zone and tossed the ball backward across the field to Dijon Stanley, who returned it to 49 yards. Forget that Bryson Barnes promptly threw an interception on the ensuing possession that began yet another Ducks touchdown that led to the final score.

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This game was a mess for Utah, the rare one-sided blowout loss at home. It started ugly – Oregon marched 75 yards on six plays for a touchdown on its first possession – end never got any prettier for the Utes.

We know what you’re thinking – if a healthy Cam Rising at quarterback was throwing to tag-team partner Brant Kuithe, the goal of a three-peat could still be alive. Maybe so, nobody can accurately say definitively.

Not that it matters anyway. As Whittingham so readily states often, injuries are no excuse.

Don’t bother arguing with the motorcycle-riding boss with the beefy biceps, as the world saw during his crowd-pleasing appearance on the Pat McAfee show Friday as part of ESPN’s GameDay show on the Utah campus. Turns out, Whittingham on wheels was the most exciting part for the Utes over the last two days.

Urban Meyer’s opinion earlier in the week declaring his former defensive coordinator at Utah as college football’s best coach is debatable. But this much is true: three weeks shy of his 64th birthday, the whippersnapper Whittingham is the coolest coach in the land.

But even he can only do so much with Utah has available this season. The coach with the better players in the given game usually comes out on top.

Taking the glass half-full view – these are still college kids, after all – the Utes (6-2, 3-2) are far from being a lousy team. A bowl game, along with a decent possibility of nine wins (10 seems like a reach), remain on the table.

Still, getting hammered at home is embarrassing. And the Utes really can’t point much to injuries on defense, even though losing linebacker Lander Barton last week obviously hurt.

Oregon dominated in the trenches, a fact that always gnaws at Whittingham. Utah’s defense could do little to stuff the Ducks, led by player-of-the-year candidate quarterback Bo Nix (24 of 31 for 248 yards and two touchdowns).

Not even reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams of USC carved up the Utes the way Nix did. The Auburn transfer, operating behind an impressive group of blockers, had his way all game and directed the offense to 390 yards of total offense.

“Credit their O-line,” said Utah linebacker Karene Reid. “The scheme was there; we’ve just got to be more aggressive.”

To complicate the problems, Utah’s running game was virtually non-existent. After running wild in consecutive wins over Cal and USC, the Utes were stuffed at the line of scrimmage and are not good enough to rely on competing through the air.

Ja’Quinden Jackson and Sioni Vaki combined to rush for only 76 yards, a number that was both abysmal and surprising. Yes, it was that kind of game.

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PK: Utah Football Faces Reality Check Following Loss To Oregon Ducks