Utah football: Big win in hand, Utes start thinking forward
Shortly after the Utes completed their 44-6 thumping of No. 11 UCLA Saturday, quarterback Tommy Grady wanted to start talking about Utah's next opponent, only he realized he couldn't.
"I don't know who it is," he said Saturday night.
His unawareness of Utah's schedule showed the importance the Utes placed on their game with the Bruins, not so much because the Pac-10 team was highly ranked but because the Utes were in desperate need of some good fortune of their own. A road game against a conference opponent? Worrying about that contest had to wait; the Utes' lone focus for a week was coming up with an effort good enough to trump all the badness the team had endured in its first two games.
Task accomplished. Finally the Utes start a new week feeling like they are a team evolving rather than one dissolving in injuries and disappointments. The Utes' victory over the Bruins was a historic win, the first over a ranked team at home since 1973, but more importantly, the outcome gave the Utes something they can build on as they prepare for UNLV on Saturday.
"It's one game, and there are nine games left, but it certainly puts a halt to the first two that were such downers for us," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
It delivered some answers too. The Utes now know they can move the ball with Tommy Grady as their quarterback, they've found a running back in Darrell Mack, they can stop the run, and the secondary might just turn out to be the defense's strength and not its weakness, as previously thought.
Sometimes athletes say they learn more about themselves in losses than wins. Maybe these Utes learned more about their character in falling to Oregon State and Air Force, but they certainly learned more about their skills in manhandling the Bruins with reworked lineups.
Utah's offense has undergone the most unexpected changes, with injuries to starters, but it was the defense that had a makeover for the Bruins. Paul Kruger, Koa Misi and Robert Johnson all had their first starts and responded by combining for 20 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble.
"We got some speed down there in the tackles," senior Steve Tate said. "They moved me [to strong safety] and we got some speed down there and made some plays that had to be made."
The quarterback situation remains unsettled, but in a much better way than it was a week ago when Grady was jittery against the Falcons. He did a better job Saturday, completing 17 of 30 attempts for 246 yards and three touchdowns. He was relieved at times by freshman Corbin Louks, a 6-foot, 171-pound California native who the Utes wanted to redshirt this year as the future quarterback for Utah, only to ultimately decide they couldn't wait for the future.
"He is an athletic type of quarterback who matches what Brian Johnson brings to the offense, so we wanted to start bringing him along and running him like crazy," Whittingham said. "We have to have a guy who is in the same mold as a throwing threat, and Corbin Louks has a great deal of poise and savvy that are intangibles you can't measure statistically."
Whittingham still hopes Johnson's separated shoulder will be healed enough to allow him to return against the Rebels, but at least now the Utes aren't as desperate for his return.
No, at least for now, the Utes have seemingly banished the desperate feelings altogether. None of the Utes publicly called the first two losses jinxed, but there certainly was a feeling things might never go their way this year. One victory changed all that.
"What we put on film the first two weeks was not what we are about," Whittingham said. "Now is the time to come together and play as a team and demonstrate what we were capable of."
(1-2, 0-1 MWC)
Aug. 30 at Oregon State L, 24-7
Last game: W, 61-10 vs. Idaho State
Record: 2-1. Next: at Az. St., Sat.
Sept. 8 vs. Air Force L, 20-12
Last game: W, 20-17 vs. TCU
Record: 3-0. Next: at BYU, Sat.
Sept. 15 vs. UCLA W, 44-6
Last game: L, 44-6 vs. Utah
Record: 2-1. Next: vs. Wash., Sat.
Saturday at UNLV 7 p.m.
Last game: L, 49-14 vs. Hawaii
Record: 1-2. Next: vs. Utah, Sat.
Sept. 29 vs. Utah State 1 p.m.
Last game: L, 54-3 vs. Oklahoma
Record: 0-3. Next: vs. S. Jose St., Sat.
Oct. 5 at Louisville 6 p.m.
Last game: L, 40-34 vs. Kentucky
Record: 2-1. Next: vs. Syra., Sat.
Oct. 13 vs. San Diego State 1 p.m.
Last game: L, 34-13 vs. Arizona State
Record: 0-2. Next: vs. Port. St., Sat.
Oct. 18 at TCU 6 p.m.
Last game: L, 20-17 vs. Air Force
Record: 1-2. Next: vs. SMU, Saturday
Oct. 27 at Colo. State 3:30 p.m.
Last game: L, 34-28, California
Record: 0-2. Next: at Houston, Sat.
Nov. 10 vs. Wyoming 1:30 p.m.
Last game: L, 24-14 vs. Boise State
Record: 2-1. Next: at Ohio, Saturday
Nov. 17 vs. New Mexico 3:30 p.m.
Last game: W, 29-27 vs. Arizona
Record: 2-1. Next: vs. Sacra. St., Sat.
Nov. 24 at BYU noon
Last game: L, 55-47 vs. Tulsa
Record: 1-2. Next: vs. A. Force, Sat.