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Utes disappointed after heartbreaking loss to Ducks but determined to bounce back

Utah Utes tight end Ken Hampel (82) tries to keep the ball alive with a lateral on the final play  in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Oregon won 30-28.
Utah Utes tight end Ken Hampel (82) tries to keep the ball alive with a lateral on the final play in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Oregon won 30-28.
Jeffrey D. Allred,

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged that Oregon’s game-winning touchdown with two seconds remaining in Saturday’s 30-28 loss to the Ducks involved a perfectly thrown pass and a great catch.

Whittingham added that the 17-yard scoring strike from Justin Herbert to Darren Carrington also had good position play by defensive back Brian Allen. Whittingham said that Allen was all over the guy and had his hand up in the basket where it belongs. It was literally, he continued, half an inch from being a catch or no catch.

“That’s the game of football,” Whittingham said. “The margin of error is razor thin and from complete elation to complete devastation by that much. It’s just the nature of the game. That’s why it’s so emotional.”

At Monday’s press conference, pain from the setback that eliminated Utah from the Pac-12 South title chase still lingered.

Whittingham expressed disappointment, adding that it was a real tough outcome. He noted that the Utes had given up just three points until Oregon scored touchdowns on its final four possessions on offense.

“We could not get a stop,” he said. “All we needed to do, really, was get one stop anywhere along the way.”

In the end, though, the Utes didn’t get it done.

“It’s a game of inches and we came up short on Saturday,” Whittingham said.

Quarterback Troy Williams had similar thoughts after Utah fell to 8-3 overall and 5-3 in Pac-12 play. The 20th-ranked Utes are at No. 9 Colorado on Saturday (5:30 p.m., FOX).

“It happened. It’s over with now. We can’t really do anything about it,” Williams said. “I was always told football is a game of inches and that was the perfect example last week. His foot was in by a matter of inches and, you know, game over.”

The junior then brought some perspective to the situation.

“It’s football. It happens,” Williams said. “You just try to remember how blessed we are to be here. Win, lose or draw, it’s still a blessing to be here and play this game of football.”

Despite such sentiments, the Oregon loss was painful.

Williams noted that the mood in the locker room was pretty bad and that everybody was disappointed.

So much so, in fact, that the junior declined to participate in the postgame press conference.

“I just didn’t have anything, really, to say. I was just in shock," Williams said. “I just wasn’t in the mood. I just wanted to go home.”

Senior defensive back Justin Thomas noted that it kind of felt like the California game on Oct. 1 when the Utes dropped a 28-23 heartbreaker in Berkeley.

“It just reminded me of that game in the locker room afterwards,” he said.

Senior receiver Tim Patrick took it a step further.

“That was probably the toughest loss I’ve ever been a part of,” he explained. “There’s really no words you could describe about it.”

Thinking about every goal you set and then knowing you can’t accomplish them, Patrick conveyed, was heartbreaking.

Whittingham said there was more anger in the locker room compared to Utah’s 31-24 loss to Washington on Oct. 29. There was a lot of frustration because of the way it went down.

Getting the team back up after such an emotional game, he acknowledged, is a concern. Even so, Whittingham is optimistic.

“This team has shown the ability all year long — not only in games but after a loss — to bounce back and play well,” he said. “So we expect to do that.”

Even so, Whittingham admits the Utes have their work cut out for them Saturday in Boulder. He considers the Buffaloes a complete team and compared them to Washington.

However, Whittingham said there could be some added incentive to prevail — as a spoiler. Colorado wins the Pac-12 South with a win. A loss gives the title to USC. Should the Buffs finish on top, they will be the fifth team in five years to do so — leaving Utah as the lone team in the division not to reach the conference championship game.

“It’ll say a lot about our character and the type of guys we are if we’re able to bounce back from this and go down there and get a win,” said Williams, who added that the team isn’t thinking about doing anything else. “We just want to go in there and win the game.”

That’s the mentality, Patrick emphasized. It’s a chance for the Utes to show the nation who they really are as a team.

“If you can’t get hyped up for this game you shouldn’t be playing football,” he said.

Thomas noted what it’s all about at this point

“We’re just playing for pride and respect, really.”

EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham turned 57 on Monday . . . Sophomore linebacker Cody Barton, who had 20 tackles on Saturday, is out for the season with a broken collarbone . . . Defensive end Hunter Dimick leads the nation with 14 sacks . . . Junior linebacker Sunia Tauteoli had a “little bit of a setback” from an undisclosed injury during pregame warm-ups Saturday and was disqualified from playing by the medical staff.

Email: dirk@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer