Not since 2007 has Utah been in such dire need of a victory. That seems like a lifetime ago and past horrors we had hoped were long gone when the team finished strong in 2007, went undefeated in 2008 and did well enough in 2009.
Yet here the Utes are - the least satisfying 8-2 team in the nation nursing two consecutive blowout losses.
We've discussed how we got here and what might be causing the problems, but that doesn't change the fact that Saturday very well could be a must-win game for this team. I never thought I would ever say that heading into a game against the San Diego St. Aztecs and yet, here we are.
That isn't just an indictment on Utah, though. These aren't the Aztecs you're used to seeing. They're actually good. They're two bad calls away from being a one-loss team. They played the TCU Horned Frogs far better last Saturday than Utah two weeks ago and that came on the road. They're talented, they're well coached and they're very capable of soundly beating the Utes.
So what Utah team will show up Saturday?
I wish I had the answer. More importantly, I wish I had faith the Utes had an answer. But at this point, after watching the team get embarrassed in a span of two weeks, I'm not confident. I'm not confident they can win and I'm not confident they can even make this a game.
I hate that feeling. I haven't had that feeling since shortly after the UNLV debacle in 2007. Back then, the team proved its loss in Las Vegas was nothing more than just an ugly fluke. Now, three years later, the Utes find themselves in an eerily similar position.
Fortunately, Kyle Whittingham has a great track record of bringing his teams back from the brink. We saw it in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Each of those seasons had difficult losses, yet Utah didn't let any of those losses define their ultimate end result. That has to be their mentality right now. The season is not over. It can be salvaged and this has to be their new fight. They need to prove they're better than the last two weeks.
Even so, while we feel we've been here before in some sense - in reality, we haven't. This is the first time in the Whittingham era that Utah has collapsed so late in the season. There was time to rebound and surge after early struggles. This season, however, is only now three games short. There is no more time to figure out what is wrong. There is no more time to work out the kinks and build any type of momentum. That makes things far more difficult for the coaching staff because time is running out and we've never seen how well Whittingham works when the pressure is turned up this late in the game.
Look at BYU. They're essentially the exact opposite of Utah. They started slow and now have surged over the last few weeks and look like a legitimate threat to beat the Utes. That seemed unfathomable three weeks ago and now it's a harsh reality. But their struggles happened early enough for the coaches to make the adjustments and get things straightened out heading into a much easier part of the schedule.
For Utah, their early light schedule masked their deficiencies and provided not just the fans, but the coaches, false hope. We believed they were a legitimate team and then when they were exposed by TCU and subsequently Notre Dame, the foundation shifted and the house collapsed.
Can Whittingham at least begin the process of stabilizing the house knowing he's running against a ticking clock? I'm not so sure.
I hate that feeling.
Saturday is not going to be easy. If Utah shows up and plays as uninspired as they have the last two weeks, they're cooked.
Now it's gut check time. This is where the Utes need to exert their toughness. They need to get mean. They need to get angry. They need to show energy and above all, they need to show heart.