There was a point, prior to the 2010 TCU debacle, where Utah had one of the longest home win streaks in the nation. In fact, going all the way back to 2007, the Utes were an impressive 21-1 at home. Since that 47-7 loss, however, to the Frogs, they're a far less successful 4-3 and that includes their 3-3 home record last year.
It wasn't that long ago that Rice-Eccles Stadium was thought of as a pretty tough place to play. The win streak certainly helped cement that narrative, but it was also helped by a growing student section (which ESPN highlighted last summer) and consistent sellouts from a fan base that, a decade prior, struggled in that department.
Now Utah's attendance wasn't bad last season and the MUSS was every bit as rowdy in their game against Washington as they were at crucial points throughout the old streak. So, it's hard to pin the sluggish play of the Utes on their home atmosphere. In fact, if you think back to that '10 TCU game, you'll remember it might've been the most energized crowd we've had at Utah in a long, long time. The fans were in the stadium well before kickoff, they were standing and they were ready for what was supposed to be a great football game.
Ever since that defeat, though, Rice-Eccles just hasn't been the same. We're not superhuman at home anymore. This was apparent when, with the Pac-12 South on the line, the Utes couldn't even beat lowly Colorado.
Granted, I'll concede the uptick in opponent talent has played a role in Utah's recent slump at home. Playing, and beating, Washington is a lot harder than defeating New Mexico - or pretty much any other old Mountain West Conference team not named BYU & TCU.
Still, if you look at Washington's road record from 2011, you'll see that Utah was their lone win. They got hammered at Nebraska, barely put up a fight against Stanford and rolled over against USC. Those are certainly some big named teams and tough opponents at home, let alone on the road, but then there was also the 38-21 defeat to Oregon State, who only managed three-wins. That victory for the Beavers was the difference between what they got, and their first ten-loss season in over 15 years.
My point is not to diminish what Washington did because they were a good team that handed us our butts. My point is, even if you excuse their performance by pointing out Jordan Wynn's injury, Utah is going to have to do better at home if they're going to contend with USC or even contend for a decent season.
We need a bit of the Rice-Eccles mystique, if it even existed, to return. Not only will it immensely help the overall record of this year's team, but it could also mean a more competitive home game against the USC Trojans. While the anticipation is that of a close game, Utah's average home loss since 2010 is by a margin of 20-points - essentially three touchdowns. They averaged only 12 points in all four of those defeats. There is nothing competitive about it and if that doesn't change, when USC rolls into town later this year, they'll continue rollin' on right through Utah.
We need that to change. We need a bit more home swagger. We need to recapture that special greatness that propelled the Utes to home victories over Oregon State, TCU and BYU in '08. Because as it is, this team often comes out flat and uninspired when playing in front of a partisan crowd. If that continues, not only will they fail to even contend with USC, they will struggle to finish with a winning home record and maybe a winning record overall.
Now is the time they push back against whatever demons arose out of that 2010 TCU game. I don't know if it's still some menacing cloud hanging over the stadium or what - but it has to change and it has to change now.