First of all, Happy Halloween you filthy animals.
Second… before we start to digest and dissect what the results of Saturday’s matchup with Washington, I just want to point out the fact that Saturday was maybe the most perfect day for a football game in the history of the U. Late October, absolutely perfect weather, ESPN College GameDay in town, packed tailgates with delicous BBQ, presidential candidates at the stadium (I saw you Evan McMullin) near-record crowd, a top-5 opponent with a collection of great athletes and coaches who play the game the right way, purple-clad fans that were (for the most part) respectful of the Utes. I could go on and on, but I don’t think there is a need to. You can’t ask for a better game day than the one we were treated to on Saturday.
Now… I can’t believe I am saying this, because I am the guy who says there is no such thing as a bad win, and there is no such thing as a good or “quality” loss. But as much as the loss to Washington stings… it didn’t actually hurt. Nevermind the fact that the Utes bumped up a spot in the rankings. They now sit at 16th in both polls. That’s lovely, but AP and Coaches’ rankings mean less now than they ever have. The loss to Washington did effectively drop the Utes to a half-game back in the race for the Pac-12 South title. But the matchup with Colorado looms large and provides the opportunity to jump back into first place, even assuming the Buffs win out until then. Utah still controls its own destiny. A daytime game against the #4 ranked team in the country actually had eyes on it. People watched this game. That means they watched Utah give Washington its best test to date and likely impressed whatever fringe recruits and lazy pundits that finally got a chance to see Kyle Whittingham’s crew play. Now Utah comes off of a loss, banged up, into a much-needed bye week before they condense their goals and dreams into a 3-game season against 3 VERY beatable opponents. Oddly enough, the loss might even have improved Utah’s chances at a Rose Bowl appearance. That picture gets a little more convoluted, and requires Washington to win out (including potentially another win over the Utes in the Pac-12 championship) to garner a Collge Football Playoff invite. Still, the fact remains that in an era where winning matters above all, Utah came out of a loss without having lost all that much. A division championship is still well within reach. That means a Pac-12 Championship is still well within reach. That is what matters down the stretch.
Still…. There were sequences that were tough to watch. Miles Gaskin is a very talented back, but watching a Washington O-Line that might be the team’s only weak point beat up on Utah’s defensive front 7 is hard to reconcile. Jake Browning is the nation’s most efficient QB, but watching him side-step and juke his way out of at least 4 sacks that might have changed the tone of the game was not fun. Yes, the Huskies are good in all phases of the game, but watching them masterfully execute a pooch punt, pin the Utes deep, and take the ensuing punt return back for a game-winning TD was a knife in the hearts to all Utah faithful. Special teams are the Utes thing. You can’t get gashed on a PUNT!
Trust me, I understand. Being so close might make taking the “L” harder to swallow than even a blowout for some. I don’t mean to sugar coat a loss. Especially one that could have so easily been a win. But the fact remains that everything that matters is still in play. This Utah team is fun to watch, and remarkably resilient despite a continuinally mounting problem with injuries.
So Saturday was not quite perfect. The loss stings… But it didn’t really hurt much.
2016 still has a chance to be the best season in the history of Utah football. Here’s hoping…