Some big-brained guy once said, “Don’t let your history interfere with your destiny.”
That had to be the Utes’ swing thought as they ran onto the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night, and, man, it showed. For Utah football, disappointment had do-si-doed with desperation all season. Now, determination cut in on the dance. And the Utes used it to their benefit, beating Cal, 49-27.
You read that right — the Utes actually found ways to score, some of which actually involved the offense, some of which actually involved the run game. That hadn’t exactly been the pattern. The Utes even converted some third downs, a rare occurrence around here.
Utah’s first two touchdowns against the Bears came by way of a couple of Reggies, on a 100-yard kickoff return by Reggie Dunn and on a 17-yard return of a fumble by Reggie Topps.
Thereafter, the Utes rolled, including another 100-yard Dunn kickoff return in the fourth quarter. They put together two first-half scoring drives where 15 of the 20 plays were rushes, and by the end of it, the count was 28-6. From there, they felt like winners again, also a rare occurrence, and essentially had their way.
The prospects of falling to 2-6, 0-5 in the Pac-12 apparently motivated Utah to the point where losing its fifth consecutive game was out of mind and out of the question. Playing a lousy Cal team at home helped — a lot.
Let’s say it all straight here: This game was a heaven-sent match between two teams that previously had played like hell. They deserved each other, and they needed one another. The Utes already had lost to USC, Oregon State and Arizona State, with UCLA mixed in. Anybody think they longed to see Oregon or Stanford line up across the way? Anybody think they wanted automatic defeat?
They’d had enough of that. They were more than happy to embrace victory, to turn away from the cold wind to face the Bears, who previously had dropped five games.
They beat them soundly in all phases.
As for the aforementioned motivation, any kind of win was enough of a reward, but a wipeout was more welcome. With Washington State up next, the Utes might even make it a two-fer. But the drive to dig deep as the season moves into its later stages, when practice drones on and even games are less of a thrill, can wane, especially when the expectations for a great season are long gone. That’s the history part.
The Utes will have to be satisfied now with a reconfigured destiny, one that is not without merit. There’s something to be said — although it is often forgotten in the whirling demand for winning — for trying real hard and not giving up. That’s not corny or reserved only for Pop Warner games where Otter Pops are served up. It’s also useful for a now-diminished Pac-12 season, where beating the best teams is a whiff-and-a-miss and defeating the lesser ones is better than a loss.
The Utes looked good Saturday night. And respect comes for what they accomplished. John White ran hard and scored touchdowns, the ground game came to life, the defense was mostly solid, outside of meaningless late scores. Yeah, Cal sucks, but that’s not the Utes’ problem. They took control of the game and themselves, their bodies and minds, enough to find a little hope for whatever comes next.
Freshman quarterback Travis Wilson said his team wants to make a bowl game. It’s not as though that’s all that significant in a college postseason that includes more than half the teams. But it’s better than sitting at home, feeling sorry for themselves, crying over what went wrong this year.
Utah football’s destiny in 2012 may have taken a few hits. But with continued effort and execution, it will wind up being better than this year’s history, from which the Utes are admirably attempting to run.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.