How a team responds to the adversity after a loss can tell you a lot about that team. For only the second time since 2014, the Utah Utes fell in a game decided by one score. The Utes are now 1-1 in conference play, which keeps them firmly in the crazy Pac-12 South race. The first loss of a season always stings, especially when it was a game Utah could have (and arguably should have) won. They need to move forward though and not let Cal beat them twice. The Utes have an opportunity to show what kind of team they are when faced with adversity when Arizona comes to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday. The Utes have not yet beaten the Wildcats with Rich Rodriguez as their head coach.
We know that this Utah team does not quit when they get down in a football game. They have been down by 14 points against both USC and Cal. Utah outscored USC and Cal a combined 44-17 after falling behind by 14 points. This shows two things: first, the Utes do not quit and play well from behind, and second, the Utes do not start quickly and are forced to play from behind for most of the game, which is does not fit Utah's offensive strategy of ball control with time consuming, methodical drives. There are also many teams in the Pac-12 with high scoring offenses that you do not want to play catch up against. Arizona has traditionally had a high scoring offense that has moved the football and scored a lot of points against Utah. Playing from behind against the Wildcats is not a recipe for success. Can Utah shake off the loss to Cal and finally start quickly, or will they again fall behind and try to furiously roar back into the game?
As previously mentioned, the loss at Cal is only Utah's second loss in a one score game since 2014, the other loss was at home against Washington State in 2014. In case you forgot or blocked that game from your memory, Utah blew a 21-point first quarter lead, eventually losing 28-27. Utah responded to that loss by beating then No. 8 UCLA in the Rose Bowl. The Utes would also win at Oregon State and at home against then No. 20 USC, their first won over the Trojans as a member of the Pac-12. Can Utah follow the loss at Cal with multiple wins in a row?
Another big question in the Arizona game is the health of the Utah football team. Utah has already lost four starters since spring to season/career ending injuries: centers Hiva Lutui and J.J. Dielman, defensive end Kylie Fitts, and tight end Siale Fakailoatonga. There are also a lot of banged up players on the team, including defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei and wide receiver Tim Patrick among others. How many of the banged up players will be back against Arizona? Also, how do the new starters replace their injured teammates?
HURT AF! But I honestly doubt anyone in the Pac goes undefeated. This will be the 1 and only!— 15 (@_HattyF) October 2, 2016
With team captains like Dominque Hatfield, Utah will likely be able to emerge from this loss stronger. As the saying goes, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." There are many examples of teams losing a game, and it focuses the team, helping them play better the rest of the season. The Pac-12 is a rugged conference that is nearly impossible to get through unscathed. The last team to get through a regular season undefeated was Oregon in 2010, the last year of the Pac-10. One loss does not destroy Utah's hopes of achieving goals like a Pac-12 Championship. They just need to learn from this loss and not let it cost them more games. They have strong leadership from both players and coaches that is needed to rally together and grow after a loss.
While a win against Arizona would not lock up the South for the Utes, a loss very well could derail Pac-12 South title hopes. We will find out Saturday if the Utah football has learned from the loss and has grown as a team.