In a game that probably sums up Utah's 2012-13 season, Utah found a way to lose 34-24 to Arizona Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Though freshman quarterback Travis Wilson rebounded from a poor showing last week, few, if any positives came from the loss that mathematically eliminated Utah from bowl consideration for the first time in a decade.
After an 8-23, 55 yard performance against Washington in a devastating loss last week, Wilson responded favorably, putting up the best performance of his career. Wilson went 28-40 for 311 yards and 2 TDs, which would not be enough for the Utes to overcome other deficiencies like incessant poor tackling throughout the game.
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The evidence is in Arizona's stats, which reveal the fact that running back Ka'Deem Carey gashed the Ute defense for 204 rushing yards, and quarterback Matt Scott added 74 yards. On the whole, the Wildcats rushed for 320 yards on the ground Saturday.
Still, any Ute fan would have taken a game where Wilson achieved a 70 percent completion rate, John White ran for 112 yards and the Ute defense recovered two fumbles.
Senior DeVonte Christopher fought his way back into the line up after losing his position midway through the season, and came up big Saturday with three catches for 84 yards and one TD, while sophomore receiver Dres Anderson had 7 catches for 73 yards on the night.
Senior kicker Coleman Petersen scored Utah's first touchdown off a fake punt from the eight yard line in what would be one of many trick plays Utah pulled out of its bag Saturday.
Negating the positives, Utah was just 2-4 in red zone scoring and 1-5 in fourth down conversions. Tied up at 24 to start the 4th quarter, Utah had a good opportunity to pull ahead and put the Wildcats away, but failed to do so.
"We didn't make it happen in the fourth quarter, I think that's where it really hurt us," explained quarterback Travis Wilson. "We didn't win the fourth quarter."
The tide of momentum turned early in the fourth quarter in favor of Arizona when the Utes gambled on 4th & 6 with a fake punt attempt which yielded a 2-yard completion by Mike Honeycutt, giving the Wildcats the ball on the Utah 41 yard-line.
"We talked about that all week, and it was designed for just that situation, approaching mid-field but longer yardage, so they would not be in their safe group," Whittingham offered. "Like I said, it was drawn up beautifully, we just didn't execute. The throw was a little bit behind, and when Mike [Honeycutt] had to come back and bobble it, that gave the defender time to react."
That drive would be prove pivotal, as Arizona would score the go-ahead touchdown to go up 31-24, and wouldn't look back as Utah could not find a way to close the gap.
With issues popping up on a seemingly constant basis throughout the Utes' season, it's apparent that head coach Kyle Whittinghamwill need to take a hard look at his program top to bottom going into the off-season.
"We're going to evaluate everything in the off-season," he stated purposefully. "As soon as the week is over next week, I'll start the evaluations."
With no bowl preparation to attend to, Whittingham and the Utes should have plenty of time to re-examine the issues facing this talented, but egregiously under-performing team.