FORT COLLINS, Colo. — So this is what all that never-say-die stuff is all about. This is what the two-minute drills every day at the end of practice mean.
Maybe the coach is right.
It IS a 60-minute game with no side trips for loafing.
At least nobody will be rolling their eyes in practice during conditioning drills. Those homilies about making every minute count? Don't bother telling the Utes. That would be preaching to the choir. Before the season began, "living every minute and playing every down" might have seemed quaint advice. After beating Colorado State 28-21 Saturday, it's policy.
"That's our key. Finishing is our key," said linebacker Corey Dodds. "When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, you have to push it."
Playing to the end is fast becoming a trademark of coach Urban Meyer's team. You might have them beat, but don't plan too far ahead.
They're as hard to shake as a cold sore and twice as annoying. It happened with a game-winning pitch to Brandon Warfield against Cal and during a fourth-quarter rally against Utah State. It appeared in a loss at Texas A&M, when the Utes fell short, but only by two yards on the last play.
Saturday, the final push came with 1:33 left. With the score tied at 21, CSU was in easy field-goal range at the Utah 22. But on a freakish third-down play, safety Dave Revill tackled CSU running back Marcus Houston, jarring the ball loose.
"It looked like a balloon," said cornerback Arnold Parker.
Parker snatched it from the air, heading southbound at freeway speed, and raced 80 yards with the winning score.
"That play was fun," said Revill, " but at the same time I had a lot to make up for."
If there is something Meyer has insisted upon from his team in his first season it is this: It has no "off" button. It only has two switches — "on" and "turbo." Tell the Utes they're kicking too many punts out of bounds. Fine. Explain that they squandered a 21-7 lead as the third quarter was closing down. Fair enough. Lecture them about controlling momentum and they'll agree.
"You can feel the momentum shift," said Dodds, "but good teams never let that bother them."
Just don't tell them it's quitting time.
Like 7-Eleven and compound interest, these guys are a 24-hour operation.
This isn't to say the Utes have worked out all the details of their game just yet. Four games into the season, there are kinks to work out. Their punting has been shaky, as witnessed by a pair of 26-yarders that went out of bounds. The defense, though good, has been vulnerable at times. The Utes' ability to put games away early is dubious.
"I'd rather put teams away at the beginning," Revill said. "But that's college football. We need to start putting people away in the third quarter."
Still, they have been surprisingly steady for a team still learning Meyer's new system. The coach plowed ahead, working his team as though it were 0-3, not 2-1.
The rule of thumb in coaching is this: Practice with pessimism, play with optimism.
Thus, on Saturday, when the Utes went up 21-7, they appeared in control. But CSU quickly tied the score. The Rams moved down field until they were at the 22, within good field-goal range. On third down and eight, Houston carried to the left side but the ball was jarred loose. Parker was out shopping-'til-he dropped. He raced down the sidelines to score while Meyer watched, shouting deliriously.
"I'm glad I wasn't mic'ed for TV on that one," Meyer said.
When it was finished, the Utes soberly nodded their heads when asked about playing the entire game. "It ain't over 'til it's over," added Parker.
That goes for practice, too.