A week ago, a relentless Midwestern rainstorm proved to be a perfect metaphor for Utah’s determined victory over the Michigan Wolverines inside their famed football palace.
Seven days later the soggy shoe was on the other foot.
As an annoyingly steady rain soaked the Wasatch Front Saturday night, another metaphor emerged.
The Utes were cold, sloppy and wet.
Astonishingly, they blew an early 21-point lead and bumbled their way to a 28-27 loss at the hands of Washington State inside Rice-Eccles Stadium.
In the span of a few hours the mood went from upbeat with a hint of swagger to downtrodden with a hint of stunned confusion.
And it’s not like they didn’t see it coming or that they weren’t prepared for the Cougars’ bothersome offense.
See, as they flew through the night a week ago, a few hours after embarrassing the Wolverines, Kyle Whittingham and his Utes did what a lot of weary travelers do.
They went in search of a little in-flight entertainment.
With the wheels up, the tray tables came down, the seats went back and somewhere over the Midwest the Utes found it in ESPN’s final game of the night, a Pac-12 affair featuring No. 2-ranked Oregon at Washington State. It wasn’t expected to be much of a battle but it turned into one when the Cougars played a vigorous defense in the first half, sacking Ducks’ Heisman Trophy hopeful Marcus Mariota five times and recording seven tackles for negative yardage.
Although Oregon’s high octane offense was held to just 210 total yards and the game was tied 21-all at halftime, the Ducks turned up the heat in the second half and finally waddled away with a 38-31 victory.
“We had TV sets on the way home so the entire airplane was pretty much glued to that game,” Whittingham said last week ahead of Saturday’s Pac-12 opener.
“(WSU’s) Connor Halliday is an exceptional quarterback,” he added. “He did some good things against us last year, and they took the Ducks right down to the wire. We know they are prolific on offense and this might be the best defense Coach (Mike) Leach has had since he's been at Washington State.”
Talk about flying the friendly skies, if the Utes were feeling confident after beating the Wolverines, watching Wazzou give Oregon all it wanted should have been more than enough to catch their attention.
To that end, the Utes struck quickly Saturday night, no doubt motivated to send a message. They jumped out to a 21-0 lead, scoring on Eric Rowe’s interception return, a Kaelin Clay 58-yard punt return and Devontae Booker’s 76-yard run.
The rest of the game wasn’t nearly as interesting, at least not for the shivering Utah fans who braved the elements believing they’d see their Utes earn their first ever 1-0 record in the Pac-12.
As a steady rain fell, the ball and the field were slicker than anything the Utes or Cougars offered. It became clear all the Utes really had was that one little lift to start the game. After that they looked lost, hydroplaning out of control.
With no apparent fear of Utah’s defense, the Cougars rallied in the second half and capitalized on the Utes ineptitude.
Now that its fully invested in the Pac-12 and earning a full share of the conference’s revenues, there are no excuses left. Utah blew it, plain and simple. The Utes should have run away with the game and instead they slipped and fell.
They were well aware of Washington State’s high powered attack. Having watched the Cougars and Ducks play last Saturday, the Utes knew exactly what Halliday could do when given enough time to operate, and they simply didn’t step up to stop him.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo