All the right things were said because that’s what team players do.
They always have the other guy’s back and they don’t make excuses.
After Saturday’s debacle of a football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium – after Arizona laid a 42-10 beatdown on Utah – Utes’ coach Kyle Whittingham and players said all the right things about each other.
Questions were asked; appropriate answers were given.
They were asked about the cold, wet conditions on the field. The wind, the sideways rain and the soggy football.
“Both teams play in the same weather,” tight end Westlee Tonga said. “It’s not that they’re in a different stadium or anything.”
Said running back Devontae Booker: “We were out there to play a game, we’re out there to play a game every week no matter if it’s rain, snow, sun … whatever. We’re out there to give it our all and today we just didn’t do that.”
They were asked about missing linebacker Gionni Paul, who definitely could have helped the defense handle Arizona’s run game.
“It doesn’t matter. Next man up,” Whittingham said. “Not excuses.”
Tonga was asked about scoring a touchdown – the Utes’ only one of the game – in the final home game of his career.
“I don’t care if I’m a senior, I don’t care about those different things,” he said, practically spitting the words. “Obviously it’s nice to score touchdowns but it was very much overshadowed by the loss.”
And what about the fact the Utes were still in the game early in the second half, even after a terrible offensive effort to start the game?
“That’s no strength of (the offense,) that’s a strength of the defense,” Tonga said. “As a team, that’s a (bright spot) but as an offense … it’s not good.”
And on and on it went, very professional. Very nice. Very teamlike.
Shoot, even inside the locker room, away from the prying media, there’s a very good chance the Utes went down as a team, together, like brothers.
Good for them, I say. That’s what they’re supposed to do.
But here’s the thing and there’s no denying it: Utah’s offense was lousy in the beginning and it never got any better. The play-calling was, as usual, suspect. Quarterback Travis Wilson couldn’t find a decent rhythm with a two Sherpas, a hunting guide and a GPS.
Offensively, the Utes went three-and-out on five of their first six possessions – including their first four in succession. On their seventh, they fumbled and the Wildcats wound up scoring a touchdown to go into halftime leading 21-7.
The Utes’ defense, meanwhile, was stout in the first quarter and remained so well into the second. Ultimately, it surrendered 42 points and the guys on that side of the ball stood up afterward and accepted the blame, like brothers.
“We gave up too many big plays,” senior safey Brian Blechen said, stating the obvious. “We made it easy on them.”
Blechen, like the others, said the right things. He didn’t throw his teammates under the bus. Then again, he didn’t need to. The problem was plain to see: as Utah’s offense continued to sputter it heaped more pressure on the defense, asking it to get stop after stop.
“The defense, we get right behind the offense,” Blechen said. “It’s our job to get out there and gets stops.”
Arizona went into Saturday’s game with an 8-2 record and a No. 15 national ranking. Offensively, the Wildcats averaged 35 points a game and nearly 500 yards of total offense. Because the Utes’ offense was lifeless, Blechen and his buddies didn’t stand a chance.
But you wouldn’t hear that from them, they’re team players.
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.