Utah State defeated Utah 27-20 Friday night in Logan before an invigorated crowd, which reminded of a few short years ago when Utah was the upstart, scrappy underdog who was slaying giants with the vocal support of the MUSS, who rushed the field after every single victory, just as the Aggies did Friday night.
After 12 consecutive wins over Utah State, Utah fell victim to said underdog, finally feeling like so many BCS schools that Utah faced and defeated in its impressive run in the past decade. In fact, for Utah State, everything feels like a repeat of everything that Utah did in their campaign that landed them in the Pac-12.
Utah doesn't like the other side of the coin.
"There is no silver lining to this game," said quarterback Jon Hays, who stepped in just prior to the end of the first half after starter Jordan Wynn went down with an all-too-familiar shoulder injury.
The Utes, taking the loss bitterly, aren't making excuses, discrediting Utah State's effort, nor are they taking a philosophic approach.
"They made one more play than we did," said Hays very simply.
For the Utes, however, it should never have come down to just one play, given the talent gap that exists, at least on paper between the two teams. As well, the Utes dug themselves into an early hole, and couldn't quite come back.
"They out-coached us, both sides of the ball and special teams," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "It was a miracle that we were even in the game, given our first half performance,"
Utah's nationally televised date with in-state rival was a tale of two halves, seemingly. For Utah in the first half, almost everything that could go wrong, did. After a Jon Hays-led drive to put the Utes on the board just prior to the end of the first half, the Utes seemed to have found an offensive spark going into the second half.
Indeed, the Utes appeared confident in their offense and put up 17 points in the half, and the Ute defense held the Aggies scoreless until the 9:10 mark in the fourth quarter.
Early, though, miscues and mental mistakes ran rampant as the Utes dug themselves into an early hole, allowing an all too eager Utah State crowd to chime in to support their team.
The home crowd had plenty to cheer about early, as the Utes committed their first major mistake of the game, and the season in the form of a blocked Sean Sellwood punt which resulted in an early 7-0 lead for Utah State.
The Sellwood punt conjured all-too familiar images of special teams mishaps that haunted the Utes early in 2011, including multiple blocked punts. Rebounding, however, Sellwood suffered no more blocks and kept the Utes out of difficult situations by changing field position on a handful of occasions.
One of the few bright spots of the game for Utah, Sellwood punted 10 times with an average of 52.6 and a long of 64 on the night.
Though the Utes went into halftime down just 13-0, the deficit felt worse and draped over Ute players tangibly, something like a heavy, wet blanket.
While Utah certainly made things difficult for themselves, it wasn't simply Ute mistakes that found the visiting team trailing for the entire first half in front of a national audience.
"They were very prepared, and very disciplined in their game plan," said Utah running back John White.
White rushed 27 times for 96 yards, just four yards shy of the century mark, which is actually key given that Utah is 9-0 when White rushes for over 100 yards.
The upstart Aggies came out knowing exactly what they were going to do and executed a seemingly flawless game plan. Utah State's Chuckie Keeton engineered the Utah State multi-dimensional offense that racked up 380 yards on the highly touted Ute defense.
Conversely, the Jordan Wynn-led offense mustered only 15 yards in the first quarter and finished with 106 total yards for the half thanks to the 42 yards passing Jon Hays racked up in a 1:11 drive to end the half. On the game, Utah rallied to accumulate 329 yards of offense, which proved insufficient on a disappointing night.
Hays energized the offense in place of the injured Jordan Wynn, who left the game late in the half with yet another injury to his left shoulder. Wynn would not return and Hays was sharp overall, but fell victim to some drops at key moments by receivers.
After struggling with inconsistency in 2011 and through Utah's fall camp, place kicker Coleman Petersen seized the opportunity to help his team, and correct his own course by nailing a 42 yard field goal to put the stalled Utah offense on the board for the first time all game.
"That field goal at the end of the second half gave us some momentum going into the second half
In what looked to be a low-scoring affair, Petersen went 2-2, providing six of the Utes' early 13 points in the contest; a good start to repairing confidence lost after key misses last season, as well as a chip shot and missed PAT in Utah's season opening win over Northern Colorado.
Along with Hays' emergence, another star emerged Friday night, as Kenneth Scott had a monster night for the Utes. Scott made each of three receptions count, as two went for touchdowns and a third which set the Utes up for a possible shot to score in the waning seconds of the game. Scott finished with 82 yards on the night, but found no consolation in his impressive individual performance.
"We lost, so what I did or the game I played isn't really important," said the visibly disappointed Scott when asked if the night could be viewed as bittersweet given his emergence.
After trading touchdowns late in the fourth quarter, the Utes had an opportunity to win the game with a long field goal attempt by Coleman Petersen who could not complete the hat trick, with his kick falling short, and wide left.
The miss by Petersen sent the game into overtime, with Utah State striking first after Utah State's Keeton found a wide open left side to dash to the end-zone, which fell just short. Though he didn't score, Keeton's key 23 yard rush set up the winning touchdown, as Utah State would score two plays later.
"We were in man coverage, and they ran a flood route. Their receivers all went to one side of the field, and consequently, so did our defenders," explained Whittingham. "We lost containment with the defensive end. We should still be ok [on that play] if we don't lose containment. [Keeton]'s a heck of a quarterback, and he made the most of it."
Perhaps the key play of the game puts more focus on the officiating as experienced, starting defensive end Joe Kruger was ejected from the game for throwing a punch that not a single spectator present could attest to seeing. In a game of what-if, it's possible that if Kruger is in the game, Keeton's big play doesn't happen.
The Utes would answer the Aggie score on a Jon Hays to Jake Murphy hookup that found the emerging tight end all alone in the end-zone. However, the officials called an offensive pass interference penalty on Murphy, which negated the score.
Not only did the penalty negate the score, the penalty yards marched Utah from the Utah State six yard line to the 21 yard line, putting the Utah offense in a 3-21 situation. After a four yard rush by White, Hays attempted to hit Devonte Christopher, who was one-on-one with his defender in the end-zone. A pass that was on point fell incomplete, on what looked to potentially be defensive pass interference.
No call was made, and the upset was complete.
"They said he pushed off, I think. I never got a clear explanation," said a skeptical, almost angry Whittingham of the key call. "That was not a route where there was any [mesh] at all going on, so it would have been impossible to make that call. But it could have been a push off."
Though the Utes would not use the officials as an excuse, there were some questionable calls through the evening, which found both teams penalized a combined 22 times for 189 yards.
Utah was flagged ten times for 87 yards, while Utah State was called 12 times for 102 yards.
"We did enough wrong in this game to last us a while," summarized Whittingham.