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Utah dropped the ball for Mountain West

CollegeFootballNews.com Pete Fiutak, Richard Cirminiello, Matt Zemek
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TCU: "Oh, gee … thanks much for that, guys.” TCU is in a dogfight to move up into one of the top two spots in the BCS, and the last thing it needed was this. It was one thing for Utah to struggle; but this was a mopey, unfocused disaster.

Go ahead and throw out the old cliché that TCU beat the Utes twice, with Utah hardly interested this week with the national title and Mountain West dreams so rudely destroyed by the Horned Frogs, but the team should have been far better than this against a depleted Notre Dame team that lost to Navy and Tulsa at home.

Eleven penalties, two turnovers, a miserable special teams mistake leading to a blocked punt for a score, and breakdowns on defense leading to three touchdown passes from Notre Dame freshman Tommy Rees, and this was every bit the embarrassment for Utah that last week’s loss was.

Give the Irish credit for coming up with a strong, focused performance after all the distractions and all the ugliness and sadness over the last few weeks, and this game showed that Brian Kelly really and truly might be the man for the job.

How do you overcome as much adversity as a program can get hit with? You come up with a 28-3 win over a team that was ranked No. 5 in the nation eight days ago. But this was about Utah not showing up as much as it was about Notre Dame playing well.

Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn was OK after a horrible game against the Horned Frogs, but the running game never got into a groove and the offense didn’t move the ball on a team that was 79th in the nation against the run. Getting outgained 127-71 on the ground is unacceptable.

And now TCU will have to answer questions about its signature victory, and now Boise State fans have some ammo.

– Pete Fiutak

That was a classic case of letting a team beat you twice.

TCU put such a whipping on Utah a week ago that the Utes still haven’t recovered. You could just see it in the way they went through the motions in South Bend, looking like a shell of the team that began the year 8-0 and entertained thoughts of playing in a BCS bowl game.

What the heck happened to the high-octane offense that scored at least 56 points four times during a five-game stretch from the middle of September to the middle of October? Jordan Wynn was unable to make any connections downfield, the line didn’t open holes for Matt Asiata or Eddie Wide, and the once salty defense made Irish QB Tommy Rees look like the next coming of Brady Quinn.

Sure, it’s fair to suggest that Utah was living a lie all along, feasting on a tissue-soft schedule. That’s accurate, but there’s more to it. The Utes are not nearly as feeble as they looked on Saturday afternoon. And as difficult as this notion is to sell, I’d still take them over the Irish if the two met in a bowl game six weeks from now.

No disrespect to Notre Dame, which won an important game, but it batted around a Utah team that got it’s heart ripped out in Salt Lake City, and has a long way to go before recapturing its midseason mojo.

– Richard Cirminiello

 

You can choose to emphasize the point that Utah’s spirits were down after the TCU loss – that’s true. You can choose to stress the fact that, at least for the time being, Jordan Wynn is still not a special Utah quarterback, a spiritual successor to Brian Johnson or Alex Smith.

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You can also opt to criticize Utah coach Kyle Whittingham for not playing Terrance Cain; had the Utes’ coaching staff used a quick hook with Wynn and relied on a very capable backup, they might have done a lot more on offense the past two weeks. The 2010 Utah football team possesses a number of problems that are specific to certain situations and individuals. That’s a perfectly correct statement.

However, for all the things about the Utes that can be fixed, there’s one statement which won’t be retracted or changed over the remainder of a season that’s dwindling down to its final few games: The Utes just aren’t an elite team. That’s now patently obvious, but it needs to be said just the same. This is a decent team worthy of a middle-tier bowl, but it’s certainly not a BCS bowl ballclub.

The Mountain West, a few weeks ago, had a right to claim that one of its teams was going to go 11-1 and yet get shafted in the pursuit of a BCS invite by the Big East champion. Now, that piece of argumentative leverage is gone.

Saturday marked a put-up-or-shut-up moment for a program that, had it blown the doors off Notre Dame, would have been in position to finish 11-1 and put pressure on the BCS to reform its system. Now, that righteous anger can’t stand on two legs anymore. Others will talk about the TCU/Boise angle, but for the moment, Utah’s afternoon of nakedness is the biggest immediate story to emerge from this contest. Getting exposed is never a pleasant experience, but it sure is revealing.

– Matt Zemek

Tagged: Notre Dame, Utah, Tommy Rees

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