Thursday, September 22, 2005

Utah facing the big WHAT IF

That quietness is hard to shake. The sizzle has cooled. The University of Utah and their 18 game winning streak are back to square one. They now say things like, "“You can'’t win them all"”. Oh sure, now you tell us. The fans where brought back to earth last week in a tough overtime loss to TCU. The Ute players and coaches are giving us other cliches like, "“We'’ll see what we are made of"” and "“It'’s important how we bounce back"”. The truth is the University of Utah hasn'’t had to bounce back from anything in almost two years. While we like to think they are resilient and will be ready to put up a big game in a crucial situation and against a quality opponent at a critical time, but we just don'’t know. That little inner battle of self confidence versus self doubt will be one of the most intriguing things to see tonight and the result will set the path for the rest of the season.

What we know so far:

TCU is a good team. Not a great team, but good. Them beating OU and Utah, two of the top five teams in the country last year, is a good accomplishment, but it doesn't mean quite as much as it sounds like it does. OU is down. Way down. Utah isn'’t unbeatable anymore either. And for the Frogs one loss, well SMU apparently isn'’t as awful as people think. Certainly SMU is now capable of standing up and winning if the opponent doesn'’t overlooks them and lays an egg, as TCU did in their lone loss on the year. TCU plays in BYU in Provo this week, so we'’ll have another chance to gauge them.

Utah should be unbeaten. Utah'’s loss to the Horned Frogs shouldn'’t have happened. It'’s true there were a couple bad calls that went against them, including the offensive pass interference that wasn'’t called on TCU on the winning touchdown in overtime. But, don'’t misunderstand, the referees weren'’t the cause of the loss. Utah had chances to win this game. Utah was up 17-7 in the 3rd quarter and instead of seizing the game, they let the Frogs stay in the game. Also, Utah had the ball at midfield with something like three minutes left in the game. Yet they didn'’t seize that opportunity either and ended up in an overtime game. You want to know what happens to road teams in overtime when they are playing in that hot humid Texas air? The same thing that happens to teams that come to Utah and try to battle out a close game at altitude. You begin to look a little tired and you lose your edge. Case in point - Utah'’s star running back Quinton Ganther developed cramps and wasnÂ’t there to be the hammer late in the game. Shoulda, coulda, woulda sums it all up. Last year, Utah simply DID.

Air Force can definately win this game tonight. Utah and Air Force have had battles in recent years. Sure Utah thumped them last year, but in years prior we'’ve seen triple overtime and close wins by both teams. Vegas says the Utes are favored by a touchdown. While that number is easy to rationalize and I could see a 37-27 score in favor of Utah, history says this game will be closer than that and come down to the final two or three minutes.

The big WHAT IF-

What happens to Utah if they lose? It would be the first time in 30 games that the Utes have lost two in a row. It would be two conference losses and make winning the conference outright pretty much impossible. In fact, it might make even sharing the conference title an extreme long-shot. Would the surge in popularity for the Utes be gone? The bandwagon, which has lost a few members already, would certainly have plenty of vacancy if Utah were to drop to 2-2. The young QB Brian Johnson who looks like he can be terrific, would have a large case of doubt cast into his promising career. Instead of being a rising program, a loss would further give credence to those people claiming the last two years as flukes and nothing more than the "“Urban effect"”.

Mumbling on the outcome:

No way Utah'’s defense stops the Falcon offense. I expect Air Force to score a minimum of 27 points and expect perhaps the mid-thirties. Utah must be efficient and avoid early turnovers. That seems to be a basic element to any game, but the key is early turnovers. If Utah comes out and scores a few times early, they will be able to survive some errors later in the game. If Air Force causes some blunders by Utah and gets an early lead, the whole game changes and the ground game will hurt Utah. Surely the game won'’t be over if the Utes go up early, but the style of the game will change to what Utah might prefer. Air Force, unlike past Falcon teams, is passing the ball fairly well. QB Shaun Carney is very elusive and tricky with the ball. His ability to throw off an option play brings new dangers to defending the Falcons. That said, these Falcons still do most of the damage on the ground and not in the air. Air Force is 13th in the nation in rushing yards per game at 258.

I was wrong predicting the outcome of last weekÂ’s game, so take this with a grain of salt. While I expect the Utes to serve the Falcons a big dose of Quinton Ganther, I also think they'’ll make a concerted effort to allow both QB Brian Johnson and WR Brent Casteel to make some big plays. Utah has a 9 game home winning streak and should win this game. I'’ll give in to history and go with a close score of 37-34 in favor of Utah.

Big Numbers in 1988

Scott Mitchell, set a then NCAA record, and still holds the Utah record with 631 yards passing in a game when Utah lost to Air Force in 1988. Why did they lose? In the same game, Air Force rolled up a whopping 640 yards rushing against Utah. Let those numbers sink in. Next time you see a running team go nuts for 450 yards, realize that is still about 200 yards short. Next time you see a big air show and the QB posts something like 450 yards, realize he isn'’t even close.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice news.