Corvallis, Ore. • Another game, a few glimpes of improvement and another loss — that pattern just about sums up Utah’s Pac-12 experience in 2012 as the Utah Utes’ losing streak was extended to four games with a 21-7 defeat at the hands of Oregon State here at Reser Stadium Saturday.
Utah’s defense played well enough for the Utes (2-5, 0-4) to have a chance at upending the No. 8 Beavers (6-0, 4-0), but the offense suffered four turnovers, two of which led to Oregon State scores in the first half.
Utah’s offense simply wasn’t good enough to overcome the mistakes as the Beavers improved to 6-0 for the first time since 1907.
While the Beavers have their eyes set on the Pac-12 title and beyond, the Utes are just trying to salvage their season. Picked to finish second in the division to USC, Utah must now win four of its five remaining games just to be bowl eligible.
Utah was in a similar situation last year and won four of its last five league games to go to the Sun Bowl. The turning point in the season was a 27-8 win over the Beavers.
Saturday’s rematch provided no such relief for the struggling Utes. Turnovers, dumb penalties, some questionable playcalling decisions and dropped passes came in a steady downpour on a rainy night as the Utes’ hopes of an upset were drowned out.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson had the roughest time of it as a fumble and one of his two interceptions led to Oregon State scores. He finished the night 15-for-28 for 172 yards but looked every bit like a freshman quarterback as he and the rest of the Utah offense struggled.
What made Saturday’s loss particularly painful was Utah’s defense was successful against the Beavers and avoided giving up the big passing plays it has been susceptible to in recent losses.
Oregon State was held to 226 yards total and had just 52 yards rushing. Quarterback Cody Vaz was 16-for-24 for 174 yards. Markus Wheaton had seven catches for 90 yards but Brandin Cooks, the league’s leading receiver, had just one catch for 8 yards.
The possibility of an upset was there for the Utes, but so too were the glaring mistakes underdog teams can’t afford to make.
The first miscue was an overthrown ball by Wilson that was picked off by Oregon State linebacker Michael Doctor, who returned the ball to Utah’s 16-yard line.
Three plays later, Oregon State running back Storm Woods scored on a 1-yard run.
On Utah’s next series Wilson fumbled as he was getting sacked and Oregon State recovered on Utah’s 10-yard line. A roughing the passer call on the Utes moved the ball to Utah’s 2-yard line, and Woods scored on the next play to make it 14-0.
Wilson redeemed himself a bit when he led the Utes on an 88-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jake Murphy with six minutes remaining in the first half.
That drive gave the Utes a little momentum that carried into the third quarter as the Utes used 11 plays to drive from their 35-yard line to Oregon State’s 3-yard line.
But the Utes came away empty when receiver DeVonte Christopher fumbled the ball on a pitch from Wilson and Oregon State recovered it on the 10-yard line.
That series proved to be the Utes’ last gasp as Oregon State added another touchdown in the fourth quarter with a 2-yard run by Woods to go up 21-7.
As promised, the Utes made a more concerted effort to get running back John White involved in the game. He finished with 20 carries for 68 yards, but 29 of those yards came on one play.
He also had a dropped pass that would have gone for a big gain on Utah’s second series.
His play typified the night for the Utes — a little improvement overshadowed by too many big mistakes.
No. 8 Oregon St. 21, Utah 7
R In short • The Utes can’t overcome three turnovers and fall to the Beavers to extend their losing streak to four games — the longest losing streak in coach Kyle Whittingham’s eight seasons.
Key moment • Down 14-7, the Utes are in prime position to tie the game when they advance to Oregon State’s 3-yard line, but DeVonte Christopher fumbles the pitch and the ball is recovered by the Beavers.
Key stat • Oregon State has just 98 yards of offense in the first half but still leads the Utes 14-7 thanks to the turnovers.