Monson: Utes put the 'U' in ugly during win
OK, so this thing was no work of art.
It made "Dogs Playing Poker" look like a masterpiece.
It made a Picasso look proportional.
It made the Mona Lisa look like the Brooklyn Decker.
It put the oooo in oooogly.
Just the way Pittsburgh's Panthers wanted it.
Utah's Utes got more than they wanted, too.
In a season opener that was played with all the precision of a fall-camp scrimmage, the Utes and this is the best news of the night sneaked away with an overtime victory, 27-24, their 18th straight win at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
None of them had been like this one. None went down like such stale brew. None felt as much like a ... like a ... loss.
Typical of the night was a sequence that ended play in regulation, the Utes up, 24-21, and Pitt attempting a 30-yard field goal. On his first attempt, kicker Dan Hutchins drilled the uprights. Hold it, Ute coaches called a last-second time out. Hutchins then yanked the second try, missing left. Hold it, again, Ute coaches called time out. Hutchins then nailed his third kick, tying the score.
What made what happened here all the worse was this: The longer the game went on, the more susceptible, the more suspect, Utah's play became. The Utes pulled through in the extra period when freshman Brian Blechen intercepted a Pittsburgh pass, and shortly thereafter, Joe Phillips hit the 21-yard game-winner.
But Utah was fortuitous to hang on.
Despite suffering through a zip-zip tie in the first quarter and a 7-0 deficit early in the second, the Ute offense came alive, scoring consecutive touchdowns and nearly getting a third. Mistakes on both sides set up each of the scores, and a huge error by Jordan Wynn just before the half slapped aside a chance for Utah to go up, 21-7. The sophomore quarterback, under duress, floated a pass into the end zone that was picked off by Pitt DB Jarred Holley.
Wynn had talked beforehand about his development, about how he had adjusted to college blitz packages, about poise and resisting last year's temptation to just "chuck the ball downfield."
"I think I'm past that," he said.
"I just want to be a great leader," he added. "I want to stay calm. I just want to go out and play, just be me. And I want to take care of the ball."
On the whole, he did that through the first half until the interception, hitting 15 of 21 attempts for 161 yards. He was less efficient in the second, completing just six of 15 passes.
His miscues were only a few notes in a screeching symphony down the stretch. All told, the Utes committed 11 penalties, they gagged up a couple of fumbles, they dropped passes, they messed up coverages, they had a punt blocked, they blew an 11-point lead with just seven minutes left.
Pitt cleaned up Utah's blunders, connecting on two field goals and a 44-yard bomb from sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri to John Baldwin, drawing the Panthers within three.
A subsequent 25-yard punt by the Utes put the ball at midfield, setting up the three field-goal tries by Hutchins, which ended regulation.
OT, though, smiled on Utah, enough to bring a desired result at least up on the board. Everywhere else, nearly every other aspect of the game left them in desperate need of more work. One stellar achievement came by way of the Ute defense, which held the dusty, old-school Pitt offense to a mere 82 yards rushing, holding star runner Dion Lewis, who gained some 1,800 yards last season, to just 75 in this game.
The best realization of the night for the Utes is that they can and probably will play better.
They'll have to.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.