Utes enter bye week amid collapse

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

With four games left, Utah's hopes for a bowl berth are fading.

Two weeks ago, the Utah Utes finally looked like they had figured it out after their stunning victory over fifth-ranked Stanford. But two equally stunning losses, including this weekend's against a depleted Trojans team coached by a lame duck, have not only put the brakes on any idea the Utes are Pac-12 ready - it's seriously jeopardized the school's chance at a winning season.

Neither seemed probable in the wake of that awesome victory. And yet, before we could even soak up the celebration, the old Utes, the team that dominated much of last year's struggles, has returned - from the questions at quarterback on down to the awfulness of the Utah offensive line.

Now Utah is right back fighting for bowl eligibility, with the program almost forced to draw an inside straight to extend their season - and it will require them to do something they have not done much of in the Pac-12: either defeat Arizona State or win on the road.

Suddenly, what felt like a near-guarantee a couple weeks ago, now feels just as daunting as it did last year. The Utes, after so much progress in the first-half of the season, have collapsed and are now on the verge of consecutive losing seasons since the late 80s, early 90s.

Worse, the uncertainty at quarterback, Travis Wilson's injury, amplifies those struggles and concerns. Wilson has not looked good now in two games, and his injury has certainly played a role in the Utes' two ugly defeats. But it's clear the quarterback depth much talked about this preseason does not exist and because it doesn't exist, Utah can ill afford a hobbled Wilson, let alone losing him entirely. Saturday proved that - as an injured Wilson failed to do much of anything when given the chance (beyond running, which, for his height, he's really, really good at).

It doesn't help Utah has lost its best receiver and two impact tight ends. But again, depth at these spots continues to kill the Utes - as does Dres Anderson's inability to be consistent. Outside Anderson, there just isn't a viable offensive option, and he's even limited.

Which makes the loss of Wilson hurt even more. He's good enough to find those narrow options and deliver a good amount of big-play passes that move the ball down field. Adam Schulz, for whatever reason, just hasn't been able to do that and it doesn't help the offensive line, which was supposedly going to be better this season, hasn't done much of anything the last few games - especially with Poutasi being blown up on every play. The fact he's the best option, or at least the coaches believe he is, tells the grim picture of the line right now.

Even Andy Phillips doesn't look himself.

Really, I don't think these last two weeks could have gone any worse for Utah. It was a total meltdown and it's cost the team a chance to do something solid - but more importantly, it's cost them momentum heading into a crucial stretch of football.

A stretch that now might need to be played without Wilson.

I don't know the severity of his injury, but the fact the coaches felt he was good to go Saturday worries me. It's a common theme among teams under Whittingham - something we just went through with Jordan Wynn. Wilson was not himself in two games now and the coaches still played him. Not only did they risk injuring him further, they also risked damaging his confidence as a quarterback.

Moreover, how injured is Wilson? We won't know because Whittingham won't talk about injuries unless they are season ending. Which is understandable, but it also makes you wonder how long it will take to get Wilson back to full strength - because, really, he was nowhere near that this weekend. Will he be after a bye week? If not, do the coaches look at burning Conner Manning's redshirt? The depth we heard about at quarterback might be there, but it's young and untested, which means little in a situation like this - especially if we can't use it. Is Schulz the answer - or should Utah just risk it with an injured Wilson?

Not easy questions to answer and however they are answered will most definitely define this season and set the course for the next couple years.

Right now, though, Utah is stuck in limbo.

It sure does feel like two weeks was a lifetime ago, doesn't it?

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