I don't believe in moral victories. I don't feel good that Utah lost Thursday night, even though they competed and, in some instances, exceeded my expectations. When I rewatched the game the next day, it hurt reliving the fact Utah was up 7-0 and 14-0 and 21-10 against a team, just a tad over a month ago, enjoyed the top ranking in the land. I didn't leave the stadium happy or satisfied with the performance because this was a game, even with all its flaws, the Utes could have won.
Any time you lose a game of this magnitude when it's there for the taking it's hard to swallow. So, no, I don't believe this was a moral victory and I'm not convinced the problems we had prior to the game have fixed themselves due to how competitive they looked Thursday night.
What I do know is that, even in defeat, this was an amazing game with an amazing atmosphere. I hated losing, but I enjoyed every second of it because of what something like this meant to the program. Here we were, at home, playing the USC Trojans in a conference game ... in front of ESPN cameras and the fourth largest crowd in program history. It was magic. Even with a loss, this was still that Thursday night magic we all talked about last week.
What a game. What a moment. The whole experience was goosebump-inducing and something I don't think I'll ever forget.
But I also learned how important it is we succeed in this league because games like this might not take on near the meaning if the program slips in the long run. As great as Thursday was, it was also a precursor to what things could be if Utah continues building a successful Pac-12 program. No excuses now ... we tasted the best the Pac-12 has to offer and we better strive to go blow to blow with it these next years because I don't know anyone who didn't leave that stadium at least amazed by what this conference has to offer.
Of course, the kicker here is that you've got to compete. We were competitive against USC and because of it, the game played out far better than it would have had the Utes walked in and gotten destroyed. These games are great ... but they're only great because we make 'em great. Utah taking the Trojans deep into the fourth quarter will be what we remember most from Thursday night and that should give us reason enough to want to be better ... so that these moments can exist and improve and become legendary.
How legendary would it have been had Utah won?
That's the great thing about the future ... we're guaranteed more nights like Thursday. But we've also got to hold up our end of the bargain. When Oregon or Stanford or Michigan roll into Salt Lake in the coming seasons, I don't just want to compete now ... I want to win. This game has made me want it that much more because I felt victory forming and when it was lost, when Jon Hays' pass was intercepted and taken to the house, I was as deflated as I've ever been watching a game because of how close we came to achieving, really, the unthinkable. It was at that point when I realized we were going to turn back into the pumpkin before ever making it to the ball.
Still, I left optimistic because now I know what we need to do and where we need to get to so that a game like Thursday night ends in celebration and not dolor.
If we want more of that experience, if we want more relevancy and greatness and competitiveness, this program needs to grow up and start playing like they did Thursday night. It sounds harsh, but this ain't the Mountain West anymore and there will be far bigger mountains to climb, but I guarantee you the views from those mountains will eclipse most of whatever the hell we saw in our last conference.
I look at Thursday, really, as a preview of what could be and I'm hopeful, in next couple years, that we'll get there and boy what an experience that will be.