PK: Every Good Run Comes To An End, Utah Is No Exception

Nov 18, 2023, 5:05 PM | Updated: Nov 20, 2023, 11:15 am

TUCSON, Ariz. – The Utah Football coaches and players harp on it constantly, vowing never to let a hangover of one loss linger into the following game.

History has shown the Utes have meant it over the years, rarely experiencing two consecutive losses. Excluding the whacky – and pointless – Covid-shortened season of 2020, Utah last lost consecutive Pac-12 games early in 2018 – a year in which the program advanced to the conference championship game for the first time.

Still figuring out the quarterback situation, the Utes also stumbled in two consecutive non-conference games in 2021 against BYU and San Diego State. But once Cam Rising settled in as the permanent starter, the team won nine of the next 10 games and broke through to win its first Pac-12 championship and advance to the Rose Bowl.

As with every good run, eventually the bubble will burst. And, holy cow, did it ever explode in epic fashion early in the game.

Playing arguably its worst half since leaving the Mountain West after the 2010 season, certainly as a ranked team, No. 22 Utah was outclassed in every possible way in its final Pac-12 road game. Upstart Arizona, which won only one game two years ago, hammered the Utes 42-18 on Saturday afternoon at Arizona Stadium.

Good luck trying to find words to explain the disaster in the desert that saw Utah fall behind 28-0. It was an embarrassment in every sense of the definition.

“We just came out slow,” said receiver Devaughn Vele. “That’s all I can say.”

Look to last week as a possible reason. Fighting to stay in the conference race, the Utes lost a hard-fought game to undefeated and fifth-ranked Washington in Seattle.

For all practical purposes, the loss eliminated any chance to win a third consecutive championship. With it went the carrot Utah needed to play a competitive game against Arizona.

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Without much motivation, the Utes laid a massive egg in falling behind by an insurmountable deficit. Right from the start, they failed to show up.

All that is worth mentioning is the Wildcats scored on their first two possessions. Coupled with a touchdown off a blocked punt, Arizona led 21-0 before its fans had time to strike up a conversation about the basketball team.

“It all happened in a blink of an eye, seemingly,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We’ve got to start faster.”

From then on, even has the Utes refused to roll over and at least made Arizona sweat a bit in the second half, playing catch-up was too hard to overcome. To make it even more miserable, the skies opened to torrential downpours in the second quarter.

Befitting residents living in an exceptionally dry climate, many in the crowd relished the opportunity to get drenched in the rain at times during the game. For Utah fans in attendance, all they could do was drown in their sorrows.

Ultimately, compounding the lack of incentive, injuries finally caught up with the Utes. The season-long issue reached its zenith when the defense was forced to play without starters Cole Bishop (safety), Karene Reid (linebacker), and Jonah Ellis (defensive end).

Appreciating Whittingham’s tough-guy approach, using injuries as an excuse for losing never flies with the Utah coach. But maybe all the sidelined players finally caught up with the team this season.

At the same time, Arizona deserves a healthy amount of credit for putting it to the Utes. At least in this opinion, Jeff Fisch deserves to win Pac-12 Coach of the Year for his impressive work in rebuilding a downtrodden program in such a short time.

Taking over for Kevin Sumlin, who was fired after bitter rival Arizona State humiliated Arizona 70-7 in 2020, Fisch has increased the program’s win total from one to five and now eight. The 17th-ranked Wildcats, bowl-eligible for the first time since 2017, have beaten three ranked teams (Utah, Oregon State, and UCLA) this season.

In his first job as a head coach, Fisch has high praise for the program Whittingham has built. Several new coaches throughout the conference have echoed his sentiments.

“They’ve been able to consistently go out there every week and have a brand that everybody nationally recognizes at this point in time,” Fisch said during the week. “We’re at the infant stages of that. We’re very new in that world.”

On the other side of the world, so are the Utes for a change.

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PK: Every Good Run Comes To An End, Utah Is No Exception