Utah football: Utes turn focus to BYU after emotional loss
The best way to get over a heartbreaking loss? Prepare for a game against your biggest rival.
That scenario is the one the Utes find themselves in after Saturday's 51-48 loss to Oregon State in overtime.
The game didn't end until close to midnight, leaving the Utes emotionally and physically spent as one work week ended and another began.
BYU, on the other hand, got the weekend off to recover and prepare.
But there will be no "woe is me" attitude as the Utes get ready for Saturday's game in Provo, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said.
"There are still nine games left, and it's still early in the season," Whittingham said. "My guess is this team is going to respond well."
The Utes showed in Saturday's defeat the kind of resilience that Whittingham wants in his team.
The Utes lost the Pac-12 opener for the third season in a row, couldn't stop Oregon State's passing attack and went 0-3 in the takeaway department, but there were plenty of encouraging signs in Saturday's game.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson threw three interceptions, prompting him to take the blame for a game he was determined to win to honor his childhood friend Nick Pasquale, who was fatally struck by a car a week ago.
"I tried to make plays and make the game as close as I could, but fell short," he said.
Wilson finished the night 19 of 33 for 279 yards passing with two touchdowns and led the Utes in rushing with 13 carries for 142 yards and three touchdowns.
His numbers were overshadowed by the phenomenal performance of Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion, who was 27 of 44 for 443 yards and five touchdowns, but Whittingham made it clear the loss wasn't on Wilson's shoulders. The coach instead put the blame on a lack of takeaways by the defense.
"It is a turnover drought for our defense," said Whittingham, whose team still is looking for its first interception. "We have to figure out a way to get interceptions or fumbles consistently."
Wilson made plenty of plays to keep the Utes in the game, like his 9-yard touchdown run that tied the game with 21 seconds remaining in regulation. The sophomore also showed the leadership the Utes need at quarterback by exhibiting more emotion and focus under fire than at any other time in his career.
When he crossed the goal line with 21 seconds to go to tie the game at 45-45 and fist-pumped to the sky, it seemed he and the Utes believed they'd prevail against the Beavers after trailing by 17 points.
Unfortunately the comeback fell short after Utah settled for a 41-yard field goal in overtime. The Utes then gave up a game-winning 6-yard touchdown pass from Mannion to Brandin Cooks.
"The best thing about this team going forward is the toughness and resilience to hang in there and keep fighting and believe in what they are doing," Whittingham said.
That belief seemed to stem from Wilson, who earned good marks from Whittingham even with the mistakes. Wilson might have gotten ripped by his coach after any other outing with three interceptions. Whittingham instead praised him.
"We knew there was going to be a learning curve to the season, but there is a lot less of a learning curve than we thought," Whittingham said. "He has been outstanding, and I think we have ourselves a quarterback, and we're excited about the future."
The immediate future is recovering from the emotional loss to get ready for the Cougars.
Saturday's game marks the final one between the teams until the 2017 season.
Utah has won the last three meetings, which includes one of the craziest endings the rivalry has seen.
Utah's fans rushed the field after a 51-yard field-goal attempt by BYU was blocked by Utah's Star Lotulelei with 1 second remaining.
Officials penalized the Utes 15 yards for the fans' celebration, saying the ball still was live. BYU's 36-yard field-goal attempt hit the upright and bounced away, which allowed the Utes to finally celebrate a 24-21 win.
Such unpredictable finishes are one of the elements that makes the rivalry what it is. But can the Utes recover in time from their emotional loss?
"You've got to do all you can to trick yourself into forgetting those losses," Utah tight end Jake Murphy said.
What the Utes won't forget is the way Wilson took charge Saturday. There was encouragement in Utah's growing leader even in defeat, even with the glaring mistakes.
"Travis was a difference-maker," Murphy said. "He single-handedly kept us in that game."
Utah at BYU
P Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
TV • ESPN2