Monson: Utes rally back to do what USC couldn't
With a curious college football nation freshly interested in seeing what Utah would do against the Oregon State Trojan-killers, the Utes showed their hand, alongside their poise and talent, accomplishing what USC couldn't: Beat the Beavers.
Final numbers on the board: Utah 31, OSU 28.
Or was it Utah 1, USC 0?
Yeah, the game's context was as important as its result.
And the result was nothing short of remarkable.
Plainly put, the Utes were dead late in this game. Their busting of the BCS was kissed goodbye. Their promise of a battle of the local unbeatens on Nov. 22 was toast. Their high national ranking? Gonzo.
And then . . . Wow.
How do we set this up? A lot easier than explaining it.
With 2:18 to play, Utah was down, 28-20, and the prospects for erasing that margin were beyond remote. An offense that hadn't scored a single point in the second half, and that at times looked comical, suddenly blew up for 11 points, winning the game on a 37-yard Louie Sakoda field goal as time ran out.
When the dust stirred by a 25-yard Brian Johnson touchdown pass to Bradon Godfrey, a Johnson two-point conversion, a defensive stand, and a six-play, 35-yard drive that set up King Louie settled, the Utes strutted off the field victors, as their fans went nuts.
Magic happens when you play right.
And the Utes waited until those last minutes and seconds to do so, hauling their carcasses out of a bitterly disappointing loss at home. They relinquished a 20-9 first-half lead, and, then, suddenly, revealed character nobody was quite sure they possessed.
Their effort was collected. It was calm. It was clutch.
As for the context, let's back up, because it makes all the above that much more amazing.
Thursday night's match at Rice-Eccles had rolled into a convergence of circumstances that led to unique opportunity, particularly for the undefeated Utes. Along with other ranked non-BCS-league teams, Utah was something of a puzzle across the land, an unknown that led not just to vague doubts about how terrific it really was, but also to specific questions:
Was it worthy of its No. 15 ranking? Did the Utes deserve their even higher rankings designated by the BCS computer formulas, a couple of which had Utah among the country's elite? How would these guys from the backwoods of the Mountain West look against OSU, especially compared to the unsuccessful effort put up last week by the former top-rated team from L.A.?
One by one, the answers flowed forth.
Yes. Maybe. Good, at least at the very end.
Even Beaver coach Mike Riley's interest was primed and piqued. He called the game against Utah "huge."
For all the questions and reasons already mentioned, this was bigger than just huge for the Utes, despite the fact that Oregon State now is a sub-.500 club.
Guilt by association suggests, however incorrectly, that Utah is better than USC.
Here's how and why:
First and foremost, they won.
Second, the Utes had to pass the Quizz.
Utah's defense did an admirable, if imperfect job, containing OSU running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Sort of. Moreover, only one of the Beavers' first-half touchdowns was scored by their offense. The other - OSU trailed, 20-15 at the midway point - came via a picked Johnson pass deep in Utah territory. When the Utes had to have a stop late, they got it.
Utah's offense was inconsistent, blowing scoring chances from short range, and turning the ball over, but beauty points were unnecessary.
At the end, when the Utes needed a comeback, just like the nation's No. 1 team needed one a week ago, they gutted up and followed through.
And with fresh interest from a curious college football nation hanging thick on Thursday night, their timing couldn't have been better.