Monson: Utes find a few answers and some luck vs. BYU
Mystery stacked up like a dark cumulus cloud around Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night. As the BYU-Utah rivalry game commenced under the lights, only one thing was completely clear: Nobody knew nothing about nothing. The Cougars were a slight favorite, but that was determined by somebody who was paid to make a guess. BYU was favored a year ago, too.
Everything was shrouded, then, especially for the Utes. How's this for a sixpack of unanswered Utah questions? 1) Could the offensive line actually block? 2) Would running back John White play, and if he didn't, could the Utes win? 3) Which quarterback would start? 4) Was the defense for real? 5) Would Utah's young offensive coordinator Brian Johnson shine under pressure? 6) Could Utah's offense find some explosiveness?
Coming so early in the semester, this was most definitely primary-level course work. Quarter by quarter, though, the cloud lifted a bit, and the educational rudiments were set, but only haltingly.
And when it finally did and they were, one absolute stood as naked as Kate Middleton's royal hiney-ness down on the field, plain for the world to see.
Utah is barely better than BYU.
By the doink of a last-second field-goal attempt off the left upright.
After Riley Stephenson's try failed, after the game had almost ended until the crowd prematurely rushed the field, giving the Cougars one last hope the numbers on the board read: Utah 24, BYU 21.
That outcome was significant for a lot of reasons, none of which had any direct numerical ramifications for conference standings. No, this game was bigger than just that; it was ironic since the rivalry's import supposedly had been diminished by league affiliation, and lack thereof. But what happened here was a symbol and a scene-setter for and a revelation about everything that comes next for both teams.
The Cougars have their own aspirations and issues.
As for the Utes, they can breathe a deep sigh of relief. Think about what would have been in store for them after a loss. They would have been 1-2, shamed at home by a second in-state setback, and staring 1-6 straight in the teeth.
It didn't work out that way. Victory saved them.
The heretofore unanswered was answered against BYU thusly:
The Ute offensive line is good in the same way a strainer is watertight yeah, it isn't. It catches the chunks, but lets a whole lot through. This is a problem the Utes will have to solve, or struggles will continue all season. Obviously the run game depends on it, and so does Jon Hays' health.
John White's battered ankle: Apparently, White, who said he missed practice this week only because of a school project and that his condition was at "100 percent," either was clueless or is a bold-faced liar. He didn't play. And the Utes missed him. But they got by.
Hays was the starter. He began on a high note, throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass early on a drive teed up all nice by a sweet punt return. Thereafter ... outside of a 39-yard scoring pass to Dres Anderson, it was hit and miss. Still, by the end, he had thrown efficiently, if not spectacularly.
The defense: Either it is rather stout or the Cougars' offense sucks. The former is closer to the truth. BYU slogged for yards on the ground and was sporadic through the air. Beyond that, the Ute D conjured disruption and converted opportunity that helped Utah's cause, big time. Moe Lee's fumble recovery and 47-yard return for a TD on a bad BYU snap that sailed past Riley Nelson was huge, giving the Utes a 17-7 lead near the end of the third quarter.
The 25-year-old offensive coordinator: This is complicated. When your offensive line looks, at times, like Beyonce's shredded jeans, when your offensive MVP is hurt, when your starting quarterback retires, you might have troubles bigger than a neophyte play-caller. But, somehow, Johnson found enough to beat the Cougars. He has to stir more execution and explosion out of his offense in the weeks ahead.
If he doesn't, this season will never discover the promise it once hoped to find.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM The Zone and 97.5 FM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.