The Great Debate: Will Utes survive brutal six-game stretch?

Utes’ momentum against Bruins could carry them through brutal six-game stretch

ian smith 2

 

With arguably the biggest Pac-12 victory the Utes have had since joining the conference, the question must be asked: How far can this victory take Utah?

Let’s revisit the setting of last Saturday’s contest.

UCLA had just come off of an absolute drumming of Arizona State, where they put up over 60 points, and the Bruins were playing the Utes in Pasadena in front of a raucous crowd, but even with all that, Utah went into enemy territory and came out victorious.

It didn’t come easy — they had to fight and scrap for the entire game.

In a move I don’t think anyone saw coming, Kendal Thompson took over for Travis Wilson and showed a poise that had yet to be seen. He used his legs and made smart decisions in the passing game to come through in the clutch and upset the Bruins on the road.

Last year’s upset of Stanford was at home, where the Utes had a clear advantage. No one really gave the Utes a chance against UCLA. And no one, absolutely no one, would have given Utah any sort of shot with Thompson under center after his showing in Ann Arbor. A victory like this can take the team far.

Now, with a fresh new look on the Thompson-led offense, the Utes could carry the momentum gained from last Saturday straight into the heart of their schedule. Sure, some tough teams are on the horizon, but there is more hope than ever for the Utes and their fans.

Oregon State doesn’t look like the same Oregon State from last season. Sure, they’re 4-1 just like the Utes, but they haven’t beaten anyone of great value thus far. Portland State, Hawaii and Colorado shouldn’t have given the Beavers any trouble — but they did. After escaping Portland State and Hawaii, they got smashed by USC, who exposed the Oregon State defense.

The Trojans themselves have been inconsistent as well. They suffered a heartbreaking loss to Arizona State last weekend and are set to play undefeated Arizona next week. USC has also shown they can be shaky on defense. The Trojans allowed Boston College to run all over them, and with Utah’s newly found rushing attack, the Utes should have no trouble running up and down the field against USC.

Arizona State has been up and down too. First, they were blown away at home by UCLA and then came back and beat USC with a last second Hail Mary. With the status of their starting quarterback in doubt, the Sun Devils look to be in a little bit of trouble. The Sun Devils have games against Stanford and Washington before squaring off against the Utes so they could be slightly worn out by the time the Utes get to Tempe.

This might sound a little crazy, but I could see Utah being 7-1 when it comes time for their matchup with Oregon. The win against the Bruins showed that the Utes are right in the middle of the pack in this crazy year, where it seems that anything can happen.

i.smith@chronicle.utah.edu

@ISmithAtTheU

Enjoy it while it lasts, because Utah has tough competition ahead

Brandon_Barlow

The Utes were looking for redemption from an embarrassing loss at home last week by upsetting the then-No. 8 Bruins in the Rose Bowl. It is the second consecutive year that Utah has upended a top-10 program in their own conference.

Obviously, the Utes are right where they belong. However, as nice as last weekend’s win was, it is only the beginning of a tough path.

Utah needed this win to steady its crusade to get back to a bowl game. It has shown what they are capable of, but in a week full of upsets across college football, it also shows how dangerous the Pac-12 really is.

ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd said something interesting but true the other day. He said, in regards to the Pac-12, “Let the cannibalism begin.”

What he was implying described exactly what happened this week. It is survival of the fittest, and every game has the vibes of a rivalry.

It is not easy to win even against the weaker teams in the conference. Remember how the Utes lost to Washington State last week? That same Cougar team, who just this last weekend put up a record 734 passing yards in a game, lost to a rising California team that, a season before, finished second from the bottom of the conference.

Just because Utah beat UCLA does not mean they can or will beat everyone else. You do not need to look any farther than last season against Stanford to prove that. Utah still has a lot to prove, because there are other upsetters as well as other teams with chips on their shoulders in the conference, fighting to stay alive for a playoff spot.

At least two of the four remaining road games are going to be challenging enough. Utah was embarrassed on the road in 2012 against Arizona State. Much like the Utes, Arizona State had their own upset win over USC this weekend, with their own backup quarterback throwing the winning touchdown. And you can bet Stanford is still sore about losing to Utah in Salt Lake and will be eager to face them again on their home turf.

Utah’s home outings may arguably be harder then winning on the road. USC will be looking for redemption of its own for letting Arizona State slip by on the final play. They will not be easy.

Oregon is now going to fight for its life to regain their spot in the playoff. They will be showing no mercy for Utah.

Then there is Arizona, who remains the only unbeaten team in the conference and is having an impressive year.

Utah appears to be piecing together what they need to become a bowl-caliber team, and it is happening none too soon. The Utes will be hitting a bye week before they go on the toughest stretch that program has ever seen. Just now, as Utah is motivated for a chance to win the Pac-12 South, the other remaining teams want to prove something too, and they all will be fighting for it.

Life is about to get a lot harder for the new Utah team.

b.barlow@chronicle.utah.edu

@brandonbarlow64

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