Kragthorpe: Whittingham’s timeout costs Utes in tough loss to Washington

Washington's Myles Gaskin pulls a Utah defender with him as he scores on a 9-yard run during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Seattle • Utah offensive coordinator Troy Taylor enjoyed a close-up view of his quarterbacks of the past and present Saturday night.

Taylor’s former student barely beat his current QB in a terrific duel that might have rewarded Ute coach Kyle Whittingham’s aggressive strategy with a successful onside kick, a fake punt and three fourth-down conversions in an effort to break Utah’s Game 11 Curse.

But then after Washington tied the game with a late drive and got the ball back, Whittingham’s approach worked against him as he foolishly called a timeout. That blunder gave the No. 16 Huskies enough time to kick a field goal as the game ended in Washington’s 33-30 victory.

“Just playing to win,” Whittingham explained in defeat.

Washington’s Jake Browning, developed by Taylor throughout his youth in northern California, ultimately outplayed Utah sophomore Tyler Huntley.

The Ute defense almost clinched a breakthrough victory before Whittingham’s timeout came into play, and who knows what may have happened in overtime. What’s clear is that Washington, out of timeouts, would have gone into overtime until Whittingham called his second timeout with 23 seconds left after the Huskies’ first-down run. Whittingham said he figured the Huskies may try to throw and end up having to punt.

“I get what Kyle was trying to do,” said Washington coach Chris Petersen. “You have to play aggressive in those situations.”

But the fact is, Whittingham gave Petersen an option that otherwise wouldn’t have existed.

So the Huskies scored 10 points in the game’s final 58 seconds. Tristan Vizcaino kicked a 38-yard field goal, after Browning’s completions of 18 and 31 yards got Washington to the Ute 21.

The part the Utes (5-6) really will lament came earlier. Utah’s defense had stopped Browning on a fourth-down scramble at the 9-yard line with 4:31 remaining, then the offense punted after recording one first down. The Utes then seemingly had caught Browning for a 20-yard loss on third down, but he managed to flip a pass that Donavan Thompson almost intercepted. Browning then hit Andre Baccellia for 14 yards on fourth and 10, extending the tying drive.

Except for the part about losing the football game, Taylor had to like the performances of both quarterbacks. Twice in the second half, Huntley gave the Utes a seven-point lead, only to have Browning respond. “He was just able to extend plays, like he’s done all year,” said Ute defensive back Julian Blackmon.

Browning finished 26 of 35 for 354 yards; Huntley went 19 of 27 for 293 yards.

Each quarterback completed 8 of his first 9 passes in the opening half, which ended with the Huskies holding a 16-13 lead.

Huntley’s best throw came on a slant pattern across the middle that Raelong Singleton turned into a 40-yard touchdown. Washington running back Lavon Coleman did most of the work on a 6-yard TD reception, but Browning did a nice job of scrambling and making the throw. Browning finished the half 10 of 11 for 107 yards; Huntley went 10 of 14 for 111 yards and one interception.

The turnover stemmed from Huntley’s poor decision, while rolling to his right. He could have tossed the ball out of bounds, but heaved it into traffic at the UW 40-yard line. Thanks to a sack of Browning by Bradlee Anae and Filipo Mokofisi, Huntley’s mistake didn’t cost the Utes any points.

To begin the third quarter, Huntley’s risk/reward nature produced consecutive completions of 25 yards to Zack Moss and 31 yards to Demari Simpkins, as he escaped the rush and found his receivers. The Utes settled for a tying field goal.

Huntley succeeded again on Utah’s next drive. He moved around and found Siaosi Wilson for a 36-yard gain, leading to Singleton’s second TD reception.

Browning answered with a 76-yard touchdown pass to running back Myles Gaskins, as Blackmon barely missed an interception on the sideline.

In the fourth quarter, the Utes went ahead 30-23 via a touchdown drive that featured punter Mitch Wishnowsky’s 19-yard run, followed by Huntley’s 39-yard pass to Jake Jackson.

This outcome was nothing new in November, though. The Utes always lose their second-to-last game of the regular season.

In this case, Utah’s Game 11 Curse was mainly a function of the schedule. Losing to powerful Washington under these circumstances was not quite the same as what happened to the Utes the previous five years with meaningful opportunities in front of them.

Utah lost to Arizona in 2012 and Washington State in ’13, being eliminated from bowl consideration. The Utes fell to Arizona in ‘14, UCLA in ‘15 and Oregon in ’16 with the Pac-12 South championship in their sights.

The consolation this time is bowl eligibility remains available to the Utes, if they can beat Colorado next weekend at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

This is the first time in the Pac-12 era when Utah’s bowl hopes have come down to the Colorado game. In previous years, the Utes either have posted four or seven-plus victories through 11 games. But they’re 5-6 now, needing a win over the Buffs and and a bowl victory to deliver a fourth straight winning season.

That won’t be easy. But that’s where the Utes are — in a position that seemed unimaginable when they were 4-0 in September, and one they almost avoided with an inspired effort in Seattle. But they couldn’t stay ahead, or tied, in the end.