Heartbreaking. Infuriating. Nauseating. Frustrating.
These were the words uttered around the Utah twittersphere after the Utes came up just two seconds short of a victory over the Ducks. The loss resulted in yet another year of the November curse for the Utes and ended all hopes of winning the PAC-12 South. Let’s take a look at why Utah just couldn’t get the job done.
1. Issues with finishing
You can try to blame it on defensive ends or not utilizing Joe Williams and the run game enough. You can even go right to the final play and blame it on poor coverage by Brian Allen on a questionable touchdown in the last two seconds of the game. For the third time this season the Utes suffered a loss in the final minutes of the game that looked all too familiar and the insanity of yet another blown opportunity left many Utah fans wanting answers. So what exactly is the problem for Utah? Defense? Offense? For four years Travis Wilson was the scapegoat for poor performance but the former Utah quarterback has graduated and the Utes offense is still struggling. Head coach Kyle Whittingham took the blame after the game when he said, “… All of this falls on me. I’ll shoulder that responsibility, but it’s a shame. We couldn’t take care of our business.” While I think we can all agree that the overall responsibility falls on Whitingham, it is time for Utah to take a hard look at why it has struggled to finish the job since joining the PAC-12 and more importantly, do something about it.
2. Offensive struggle
For a defense that dwells at the bottom of nearly every PAC-12 ranking, the Oregon Ducks showed up big at Utah. Looking solely at the numbers for the Utes would not lead you to the inadequate offensive performance that ensued. Quarterback Troy Williams had one of his better passing games on the season completing 67 percent and throwing for 235 yards and one touchdown. Also, despite having fewer touches, running back Joe Williams broke 1,000 yards and put up solid numbers with 23 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps the answer to offensive difficulties lies with the most troublesome statistic on that side of the ball: third down conversions. The Utes struggled to convert on third down completing less than fifty percent and additionally left a fourth and short out on the field. Overall it was not statistics but instead the lackluster effort put forth by the Utah offense that proved costly against an Oregon team that had nothing to lose.
3. The Curse might be real
Whether you believe in curses or you are skeptical it is obvious that Utah has a problem in November and an even greater problem with the eleventh game of the season. The Utes have not won a game in the eleventh week since 2011, the season they joined the PAC-12 and even that win came down to a field goal in overtime. Not only have the last five, week eleven, matchups added to the “L” column for Utah, over the last two seasons those losses cost Utah the chance to win the PAC-12 south. Utah now has a November record of 11 wins to 12 losses since joining the PAC-12 and while this isn’t the worst record in the PAC-12 it is yet another indication that Utah has a major problem with finishing the season strong.
Overall the loss to Oregon has given the program a lot to examine and left many unanswered questions. The Utes have one more game in this regular season to potentially prove they want more than the Vegas Bowl. Running back Joe Williams said it best when he opened and closed his remarks after the loss, “We’re onto Colorado.”