Facebook Twitter

Loss has Utes searching for answers

SHARE Loss has Utes searching for answers

Oops. They did it again.

Just when it appeared the Utes' woes were over, along came Saturday night's 27-0 loss at UNLV.

It pretty much unraveled everything Utah did well in a 38-point victory over UCLA seven days earlier.

"It's perplexing, but it's my job to figure it out. That's the bottom line," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We've got to keep working, keep searching and find out what the hot buttons are for this football team."

The Utes, he added, were a completely different squad than they were against the Bruins.

Utah played more like the team that dropped season-opening games to Oregon State (24-7) and Air Force (20-12).

Only worse.

Quarterback Brian Johnson said the setback to the Rebels was embarrassing. Utah was held scoreless for the first time since its 1993 season opener and suffered its first loss to UNLV in 28 years. The Utes had won 11 straight games in the series.

"You can't be a great team one week and be mediocre, at best, the next week," Johnson said. "Guys have got to step up and find a way."

Soon. At 1-3 overall and 0-2 in Mountain West Conference play, Utah needs to turn things around quickly. The first step is Saturday's homecoming game against Utah State at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"The bottom line is we have to execute," said Johnson, who saw his first action since suffering a shoulder separation in the Aug. 30 opener at Oregon State.

Johnson was inserted into the game after halftime and promptly led the Utes to the 1-yard line in his first series back. A run attempt on fourth-and-goal, however, came up short when Johnson and running back Darrell Mack collided in the backfield.

"We came out and we had a nice first drive. But you've got to find a way to score when you're on the 1-yard line," Johnson said. "That changed the whole dynamic of the game right there."

Whittingham had a differing opinion.

"If we're going to let one little thing like that take the energy out of us, then we're not very tough," he said.

As for the decision to go for it instead of settling for a field goal, Whittingham didn't feel it was in his team's "best interest" to do so with the score being 13-0 at the time and Utah just a yard away from scoring a touchdown.

Whittingham also pointed out that the Utes wound up getting the ball back in great field position but once again failed to capitalize. They advanced to the UNLV 30 on the next series before a loss on downs.

The shortcomings. however, weren't the only reasons for the loss.

"27-0. That wasn't the difference," Whittingham explained. "There were a lot of other things involved."

Namely, Utah's performance on offense, defense and special teams.

"We went from playing well in all three phases last week to playing poorly in all three phases this week. There wasn't a phase in the game that we were proficient in," Whittingham said. "We turned the ball over. We had costly penalties in the first half. We didn't tackle well on defense."

It all added up to a humbling loss for Utah and a huge victory for UNLV.

"This is the best win of my short head coaching career," said former U. offensive coordinator Mike Sanford. "I expect a lot more and we are going to build off this."

The Utes, meanwhile, are left to pick up the pieces of a season in peril.

"Credit UNLV. They played very tough, very hard on defense," Whittingham said. "I don't know what more I can say. We didn't do anything very well tonight."

Utah's defense allowed UNLV running back Frank Summers to run for 190 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 29-yard TD reception.

The Utes' offense, meanwhile, sputtered. Johnson, Tommy Grady and Corbin Louks were unable to engineer a single scoring drive. Utah had scored in 166 consecutive games until getting blanked by the Rebels.

After a scoreless first half, the coaching staff called on Johnson to provide a spark. He wound up completing 12-of-19 passes but lacked his usual arm strength after limited use in his recovery from the injury to his throwing shoulder.

Johnson acknowledged that not being able to throw the ball as hard as he normally does did affect some timing patterns. In the end, however, it really didn't matter.

"It's not an excuse," Johnson said "You've got to find a way to make plays. That's the bottom line."

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com