The Utah Utes have been unpredictable so far this season. Earlier in the year, they lost to UCLA by only seven points, and shocked the Pac-12 when they beat then-No. 5 Stanford. However, Utah has now lost four straight after falling 44-21 to a hungry Oregon Ducks team, moving to 4-6 on the season.
The Utes were frustrated after the game, feeling as though they played well for the first three quarters but allowed the Ducks to take over in the fourth. Defensive lineman Trevor Reilly was particularly upset with the loss, feeling that his team had an opportunity to win.
“Defensively, if you take away four or five missed assignments, we’re in the game,” Reilly said. “At the end of the day we’re still 1-6 in conference. We need to close games out.” Head coach Kyle Whittingham added, “Our defense was very good for about three-and-a-half quarters,” echoing this emphasis on maintaining focus for a full 60 minutes of football.
Whittingham pointed to the kickoff returned for a touchdown by De’Anthony Thomas in the third quarter as the game’s real turning point. ”The play of the game was the kickoff return,” said the head coach. “It swung all the momentum back in their favor and we never recovered. The wheels came off after that.”
One of the main storylines for the Utes coming into the game was the absence of starting quarterback Travis Wilson, who did not travel to Eugene this weekend due to a head injury. With Wilson out, all Adam Schulz had to do was make his first career start in one of the loudest venues in college football, against the No. 6 team in the nation.
Despite the difficult circumstances and the loss, Whittingham was generally pleased with the way Schulz played. “I thought he had a courageous effort. Being thrust into a starting role, first start, against a legitimate Top-10 team, I thought he handled it pretty well from a mental standpoint. Overall, I was proud of the way he competed.”
Schulz, however, was harder on himself than his head coach was. When asked about his performance, the Utah quarterback expressed his disappointment. “In this offense, a lot of it is on the quarterback. Every play you have a decision to make, and we didn’t win so obviously it wasn’t good enough.”
Utah has been dominant this season in rushing the passer. The Utes were No. 2 in the nation coming into the Oregon game with 33 sacks on the season, led by Trevor Reilly. The front seven did its job today, getting to Mariota three times and holding the Ducks to 10 rushing yards in the first half. However, the issue for the Utes on defense came in the secondary, as Mariota regularly had large windows to throw into. In fact, he was perfect on his first 10 passes.
Without a way to slow down the passing game, the struggles in the backfield cancelled out the exceptional play of the front seven. “[Mariota] is one of the best quarterbacks in the country and he is very capable either running or throwing the ball,” Whittingham said. ”He tore us up in the throw game. We couldn’t cover those wide receivers . . . and in the second half it seemed like we couldn’t cover anybody.”
With this loss, the Utes fall to 1-6 in conference play, and must win their next two games against Washington State and Colorado to become bowl eligible.