Kragthorpe: 'Carrington is still open' will haunt the Utes throughout this season after dramatic loss to USC


Now that he actually has seen his receiver, thanks to the modern blessing and curse of videotape, the image of Darren Carrington II standing alone in the back of the end zone will stick with Utah quarterback Troy Williams.

Imagine if Williams had glimpsed Carrington in real time and delivered a pass for a 2-point conversion, giving the Utes another victory over USC. The quarterback forever would have been remembered for producing two winning drives against the Trojans in two years, while creating all kinds of possibilities for Utah’s 2017 season.

Instead, having decided to run when his initial target was covered, Williams was stopped short of the goal line in a 28-27 defeat Saturday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum. And the Utes just might end up missing another opportunity for a Pac-12 South championship by those 2 yards.

The 2-point play could have ended an epic night for Williams, filling in for the injured Tyler Huntley. He accounted for touchdowns by receiving, passing and rushing, making for a nice box score. But the last words of the scoring summary simply read “(run failed).”

The worst pass of Williams’ career became the one he never threw.

“Wide open,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said during Monday’s news conference, with Williams in the room. “The play was there … just missed him.”

Whittingham added, by way of forgiveness, “Happens all the time.”

Just not with this much at stake.

Watching the film of the play is “tough,” Williams said, “but you learn from it.”

The play, changed by offensive coordinator Troy Taylor during a timeout after the teams lined up originally, was designed as a throwback to tight end Harrison Handley on the left side. When Handley was covered, Williams thought his only choice was to run.

“It’s a lot easier for everyone to say I could have threw it, Darren was open, but in the game, you’ve got everybody running at you,” Williams said. “You’re just trying to make a play. … If I would have ran it in, nobody would have said [anything].”

Other than eternal praise, anyway. In Ute quarterbacking lore, two wins over USC would have placed Williams above Mike McCoy, who delivered consecutive 34-31 victories over BYU in 1993 and ’94. Mix in Williams’ Los Angeles background, and the story would have become even better.

The loss hurts; recognizing what winning would have meant to Utah makes it even more painful for the only program that never has won a Pac-12 South title.

The Utes have gone from potentially being in the College Football Playoff conversation to needing help to win the division. Even if Utah wins its last six conference games to finish 7-2, which is asking a lot, USC (owning the tiebreaker) would have to lose twice to some combination of Arizona State, Arizona, Colorado and UCLA. Such a convergence is conceivable, but not likely. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Utah a 0.1-percent chance of winning the Pac-12 championship.

Those odds would have increased significantly if Williams had seen Carrington in the end zone. A screen shot shows Carrington alone, with Williams encountering a USC defender at the 5-yard line. By then, he was committed to running. It would have taken a phenomenal play for Williams to find Carrington and throw the ball at that point.

Second-guessing is part of the game. Williams still wishes he would have kept the ball instead of giving it to Zack Moss on the last play of a loss at California last October.

Against USC, Whittingham’s choice to decide the outcome right then and there, rather than play for overtime, is completely defensible. The Ute defense was worn down and, as we know, Utah has not been great offensively inside the 25-yard line, where college overtime is played. Whittingham’s decision could have produced one of the biggest wins of his career and immortalized his quarterback.

Taylor already used a trick play near the goal line, having receiver Demari Simpkins throw a pass to Williams for a second-quarter touchdown. What if Taylor had saved that call for the 2-point play?

As it is, that failed run may have been Williams’ last meaningful play for the Utes. If his shoulder is healed, Huntley may return Saturday vs. Arizona State. Williams could go from an almost-legend to a backup QB again.

He deserves a better ending.

Utah, BYU, USU midseason update<br>Here’s how Kurt Kragthorpe’s preseason, game-by-game forecasts have compared to the performances of the state’s FBS programs:<br>Utah (4-2)<br>Projected record: 4-2<br>Missed on: none.<br>Remaining projected wins: Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA and Colorado.<br>BYU (1-6)<br>Projected record: 3-4<br>Missed on: Losses to Utah State and Boise State<br>Remaining projected wins: East Carolina, San Jose State, Fresno State, UNLV, UMass and Hawaii.<br>Utah State (3-4)<br>Projected record: 3-4<br>Missed on: Win over BYU, loss to Colorado State.<br>Remaining projected wins: UNLV, New Mexico and Hawaii.