Utah football has lost two-straight and it's cost 'em a chance to lock up a bowl game. Because of that, with the season quickly coming to an end, this Saturday's game against the streaking Sun Devils has a chance to define the season - it's a potential contest that could right this sinking ship and deliver the Utes a probable postseason berth.
But like their last game against USC, this one won't be easy - especially if Travis Wilson hasn't healed.
Yes, it's at home. Yes, Utah has looked vastly different at RES, even in losses, than their two out of state contests. Yes, this team can beat Arizona State. Unfortunately, because of their recent woes against the Sun Devils, the consecutive losses, and now the injuries, victory seems surprisingly in doubt. Even Vegas, who has had the Utes pegged much of the season, predicts a ASU win.
And why shouldn't they? This isn't the same Sun Devils team that has historically faded as the season progressed. They're 6-2, and coming off a dominating three-game win streak - including an impressive blowout of Washington and a tough road win over Wazzu. People mock 'em for playing poorly away from Tempe and yet, they came within striking distance of Notre Dame and battled Stanford after falling behind early. This is no slouch of a program and, potentially, the best in the Pac-12 South. They've defeated Utah here before and, unless the Utes are vastly improved off their performance a couple weeks ago, they can, and should, again.
Which makes the prospects of this season shaky. While this game isn't a must-win, things become infinitely more muddled with a loss. I'm not entirely convinced a Utes team in dire need of a win can go on the road and defeat Washington State - especially riding a four-game losing streak. The problem facing Utah this Saturday is that morale will only continue to take a hit with every loss. If they can't beat ASU, and certainly no one anticipates they'll beat Oregon, why would this team then be able to go on the road and beat an improved, albeit questionable, Cougars team? Have you seen Utah's woeful conference road record?
In fact, I'd much rather swap the ASU and Wazzu games because right now, I think Utah stands a better chance of winning in Pullman than they would if everything rode on that game and they entered it slumping to a 4-6 record.
Alas, you have to play the cards you're dealt. As is, this isn't the most ideal of times to play Arizona State. Not with how the Utes have struggled and the Sun Devils, seemingly, found new life. Which makes Saturday even more difficult.
If Utah is going to win, if they're going to salvage their season, it begins and ends with Wilson. His injury has to be healed and he can't be less than 100% or we might as well just concede the remainder of the year. He's too vital to this team to play injured - even more so when the weapons the offense has is limited either by injury or talent.
As hyped as Adam Schulz appeared to be this summer, for whatever reason, he's not capable of getting it done and Wilson, even limited, has shown he can. But he has to be healthy for that to happen. If not, he's just a clone of Schulz and that ain't going to cut it.
So, is Wilson ready? I thought he might be two weeks ago. He wasn't. The Coaches dropped the ball by playing him and further risked hurting his hand. But with a bye week behind him, and time to heal, I guess we'll find out soon enough. If he isn't ready to go this week, you've got to think the coaches sit him until Washington State (that is, unless it's much more serious) - that would provide him a chance to heal and keep him out of a meaningless game against the Ducks. Still, as I already mentioned, entering that game one loss away from a losing season is just temping fate - daring it to give the Utes that knockout blow.
I don't want the season to come down to a road game. That can pretty much be solved with a win Saturday.
But Utah winning Saturday is far easier said than done. Especially with this team.
No, the season might not hinge on Saturday's game - but a win will certainly boost Utah. A loss will make it that much harder to find their way back to the postseason, and I'm afraid a blowout loss might just doom 'em to a second-straight losing season.
They can't let that happen.
They've gotta find a way to beat ASU.