Utah is famous today.
More specifically, University of Utah football player Kaelin Clay is famous today.
The senior wide receiver’s name has been known among U of U fans and around college football circles for a while now – he’s got three punt returns and a kick return for touchdowns this season, tops in the NCAA – but after Saturday’s home loss to Oregon he’s more infamous than famous.
His name has gone viral, as they say.
By now even those with little or no interest in college football – or sports in general, for that matter – have heard about Clay’s dumb play. In the early moments of the second quarter, with Utah leading the No. 4-ranked Ducks 7-0, he caught what appeared to be a 79-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Travis Wilson. However, in his haste to stylize the score, Clay dropped the ball just shy of the 1-yard line instead of letting it go after crossing the goal line.
Although he isn’t the first to commit such a knuckleheaded move, he’s definitely the latest to do so and for his silly showboating spectacle, it seems everybody now knows his name.
Predictably, Clay’s play appeared all over the cable TV sports highlight shows late Saturday night and well into Sunday. By Monday it was being shown on non-sports programming and, of course, it has blown up across all social media platforms.
And it’ll stay there forever because the Internet is more permanent than a grass stain, lathered in mustard and circled with a Sharpie.
As written here after the Utes’ 51-27 loss, Clay’s gaffe certainly contributed to the final outcome but it was hardly the only reason for it. Certainly, it took away what would’ve been a 14-0 lead and, yep, it sure did look as if the Utes had been punched in the gut. But there were also three quarters remaining in the game and indeed Utah rallied to make it a three-point game early in the fourth.
Additionally, Oregon’s offense is designed to strike quickly and score points in bunches. The idea that the Ducks were going to wilt under the pressure of a 14-0 deficit is absurd.
Tell me Clay’s blunder left the Utes psychologically crippled for the remainder of the first half and I’ll buy in a little bit. Tell me it cost them the game and I won’t even listen.
And I’m not alone either. His head coach and a few of his teammates echoed that sentiment Monday during Kyle Whittingham’s weekly press conference.
Hey, I get it. They’re pretty much obligated to have Clay’s back; that’s what coaches and teammates do … or at least that’s what they’re expected to do. But beyond that they’re competitive guys and as such they want to win. They know Clay gives them the best chance to win ballgames (yes, I’m aware of the irony) and so they’re supportive and encouraging.
“He knows it was a stupid mistake and he owns up to it,” Wilson said. “This whole team is behind him, we know he’s made some big plays for us in the past and helped us win games and he’s gonna keep on doing that throughout the rest of the season.”
Running back Devontae Booker, who lives in the same apartment complex as Clay, said he paid Clay a visit long after the game was over. Naturally, they talked about the game but Booker said they also played video games to help get Clay’s mind off what happened.
Utes’ defensive back Brian Blechen said he appreciated how Clay accepted responsibility immediately after the game, telling reporters, “I will take the criticism and the blame. It was just one of those things. I got excited and let the moment just get away from me. Again, I take full responsibility for this."
Said Blechen: “I’m glad he was mature about it and accepted responsibility. It happens. I’m not mad at him, I love him as a brother.”
“He’s one of our most explosive players,” Blechen correctly added. “He’s got a lot of talent and we believe in him. I have no doubt that this week (on the road at Stanford) it’ll be nothing but redemption for him.”
Look, I know the Utes are anxious to move on, even though Clay’s gaffe will never really die. I respect the way he handled the situation and his willingness to face the media after the game. I also appreciate the way his teammates have rallied behind him.
What Blechen said about Clay finding redemption this weekend? I don’t care who you are or which team you root for, that would be an amazing turn of events.
I hope it happens … lather that in mustard and circle it with a Sharpie.
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