In what can only be described as a situation going from bad to worse, the Utah Utes allowed key mistakes, injuries, and an outstanding performance by an All-American candidate lead to a blow-out loss on the road in the season opener.
The bad came off of what turned out to be the best offensive play of the night for the Utes, a beautiful pass by quarterback Brian Johnson to standout receiver Brent Casteel for a 37 yard touchdown. Casteel was flagged for a questionable celebration penalty on the play, forcing the Utes to kick off from their own 15 yard line. This turned out to be key, as Utah had been dominating the field position battle to this point allowing the defense to zero-in on containing Oregon State star running back Yvenson Bernard. Thanks to the penalty, the Beavers flipped field position on Utah by pinning the Utes deep in their own territory after the Utah defense forced a punt. The Beavers defense forced a quick punt of their own giving the offense great field position. Bernard found his path cleared as Utah could not pack eight men in the box, and Oregon State drove the field on the legs of Bernard, capped off by a touchdown run tying the ball game. Then things got worse for the Utes.
Johnson kept the ball on an option play to his right. Johnson took a hard hit to his right shoulder, and fell awkwardly on the same shoulder. Despite being in obvious pain, Johnson stayed in the game. He promptly threw a completion to Brian Hernandez before calling to be taken out of the game. Johnson left the field for good with a separated right shoulder.
Early in the game the Utes lost running back Matt Asiata to a broken leg. With Utah's only real running threats out of the game, the Beavers front focused on getting to the quarterback. From that point on, Utah's offense was stopped cold by the quick defense of the Beavers.
Utah's defense held up well in the first half, and then seemingly never left the field in the second as the Beavers ran the ball at will. The Utes never recovered and the game was in hand when Alex Serna kicked a field goal to make the score 17-7 for Oregon State.
Not even the most creative Ute fan out there could have dreamt up this nightmarish scenario for a season opener. With Johnson out for at least three weeks and Asiata out for the season, the thought of what could have been a successful season for the Utes all but evaporates. With Air Force up next the Utes have a decent shot at beating the Falcons at home with Grady running the show, but all hopes of pulling of a PAC-10 victory against UCLA at home faded away when Johnson left the field Thursday night. The good news for the Utes is that they play UNLV and Utah St to finish off September which are both very winnable games even with a depleted Ute offense. With Johnson likely back by then the Utes still will have a chance at making a run for the conference championship.
Utah's next game is at home against conference foe Air Force while Oregon State travels to take on the Bearcats of Cincinnati.
Stars of the Game:
Utah: DB Sean Smith
Oregon State: RB Yvenson Bernard
15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Utah's Casteel following the first points of the game by either team.
55 yard run by Yvenson Bernard to down to Utah's 26 yard line.