The Utah Utes will have the most to say about how they’re ultimately perceived in 2013, moving forward from last weekend’s upset of then-No. 5 Stanford.
The Cardinal certainly can help, though. If Stanford’s recovery is anything like last season’s response, Utah’s 27-21 victory will become even more meaningful.
After a controversial overtime loss at Notre Dame last October, the Cardinal reeled off 13 wins before coming to Rice-Eccles Stadium. That run featured an upset of Oregon, two wins over UCLA, a Rose Bowl defeat of Wisconsin and a pounding — for three quarters, anyway — of Arizona State last month.
Stanford’s next three games will be especially intriguing. The Cardinal will host UCLA this weekend in a rematch of the 2012 Pac-12 championship game, then visit Oregon State before meeting Oregon in a Thursday night contest that long ago was trumpeted as the game of the year in the conference. It still may fit that description, if Stanford bounces back.
Refreshingly, Stanford coach David Shaw did not assign full blame to his team for the loss to Utah. "That natural feeling is that something had to go tremendously wrong, as opposed to the other team playing better than us," Shaw said Tuesday during the Pac-12’s weekly teleconference.
The irony is the ending of that game will haunt the Cardinal only if they win the rest of their games and the loss ends up costing them a national championship opportunity. Stanford nearly rescued a remarkable win, only to have quarterback Kevin Hogan throw two incompletions from the Utah 6-yard line in the last minute.
Until then, Hogan had completed all five of his passes for 61 yards on the drive that started at the Stanford 12. "He made some unbelievable throws to get us back to that point where we had a chance to win the game," Shaw said.
So now UCLA will draw the Cardinal coming off a loss.
"We don’t worry too much about the other team’s psyche," Bruins coach Jim Mora said. Stanford’s loss "didn’t surprise me at all," he added, citing UCLA’s tough time with the Utes the previous week.
Some defensive issues have surfaced beyond the emotional state of the Cardinal. Washington and Utah combined for 904 yards and 55 points against Stanford, with a mixture of passing and running. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley may be able to exploit the Cardinal as well, even if Mora said, "They’ve got no weaknesses."
Judging by how they played in Salt Lake City, Stanford and UCLA should match up about evenly. The result could be a third straight dramatic finish for the Cardinal, who needed a replay overturning of Washington’s fourth-down completion to preserve their 31-28 victory before losing to Utah.
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