Utah football is kind of in a state of limbo ... not ghastly bad and yet, still not good enough to win winnable games. Saturday, like the Saturday before, was a winnable game the Utes lost because of inconsistencies and undisciplined play. I guess, in that regard, they are consistent. Unfortunately, that type of consistency is never good.
For whatever reason, this year's Utah team has struggled with composure and because of it, they sit on the verge of not making a bowl game for the first time in a decade. That's hard to reconcile because in their five losses, three were a direct result of turnovers or dumb penalties - and last night had 'em both.
That's the hallmark of an undisciplined team and unfortunately, that has defined most of those five losses. Look, even with all the questions surrounding the offense and the suspect defense, had this team shored up its mental state and I think it's likely they're no worse than 4-3 on the season and in position to make a strong run at a decent bowl game. But because this team is prone to mistakes at key points in every game, they've lost all control of the season.
Really, this season can be summed up in two plays from Saturday's game - the botched fumbled by DeVonte Christopher (who has been absolutely non-existent this season as a senior) and Brian Blechen's inexcusable penalty on a key third down that would have stalled an Oregon State drive late in the fourth quarter. Instead, they were given a new set of downs and scored a touchdown to balloon their lead to fourteen points. A stop there gives Utah life. Instead, like the week before, the Utes were forced to play to cut the deficit down to one score instead of playing for the tie.
How many more times this season will Utah kill a drive because of a turnover or keep the defense on the field because of a stupid penalty?
Stuff like that should not fly and I think it's time Kyle Whittingham sit down with a few of his players and tell them, even with depth issues, that they're not going to see the field again until they clean up their act. Just last week, Whittingham had no problem suggesting that Travis Wilson could be benched if things went south fast, but where is he on the matter of both Christopher and Blechen? You've got to ask yourselves whether these two are now becoming more a liability playing than if they weren't to see the field altogether.
And that's not easy for me to say because I hate ragging on players. I get many of them put it all out there on the field, and in Blechen's case, maybe that's exactly where his problems stem from ... the fact he is too emotional ... but when it starts costing your team victories, it becomes inexcusable and the play of both as of late is bordering on negligent.
Is this season over? No. I still believe the Utes have a small chance of gaining six wins and going to a bowl game. But for that to happen, they will need to reevaluate a great deal of their actions - from the coaches on down to the players. I mean, it's great we're contending against good teams ... but contending and losing is still losing and once that losing mentality sinks in, good luck trying to break it.
If Utah is going to salvage their season, they need to play smart, fundamentally sound football these next five games or things will only continue to get ugly and this team will sink to its worst season in nearly 30 years. Yeah, the competition is better and yeah, you can throw out this team's strength of schedule ... but none of that matters if the wins don't follow.
This season rides on the intelligence and emotions of this team. If they want to make a bowl game, it'll take more than just playing to a near-draw with their opponents. It's great Utah didn't get blown out against a top-ten team on their field. But you have to look beyond the box scores of these last two games to fully understand where the problems are and what needs correcting for this team to take the next step. They're not going to be good, regardless if they exceed our expectations week in and week out in a loss, if they don't get a handle on what is one of the most crucial points of any sport ... and that's discipline. Good teams are disciplined, bad teams aren't.
Disciplined teams find a way to win those games they really shouldn't ... while undisciplined teams find a way to shoot themselves in the foot and lose those games that maybe they could win.
Utah didn't lose Saturday because they were a bad team. They lost Saturday because they were an undisciplined team and that makes them a bad team.
If this season is to be saved, if there is any hope of turning it around, that has to change. If it doesn't, then expect more results like the past two weeks.