Two-year-old Leo Belnap, apparently having seen enough in his third season as a Utah football fan, responded to last weekend's loss at Washington State by shredding his parents' season tickets.
More accurately, he destroyed the $1,060 in cash set aside to pay for tickets already obtained from his grandmother. Yet the child’s act symbolized a season that is in danger of becoming tattered, unless the Utes recover quickly.
Thanks to the “mutilated currency” provision of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the money is salvageable. So is Utah's season, especially if the Utes can upset No. 14 Stanford on Saturday night at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.
Among the Utes' issues is a scheduling rotation that sends them against the better teams from the Pac-12 North. There’s no Oregon State in Utah’s immediate future, and that’s a problem. Since beating the Beavers in October 2016, the Utes have lost eight straight games to North opponents — including Washington and Washington State in their first two conference contests this year.
TROUBLE UP NORTH
Utah has lost eight straight games to Pac-12 North opponents:
2016 • Washington 31, Utah 24; Oregon 30, Utah 28.
2017 • Stanford 23, Utah 20; Oregon 41, Utah 20; Washington State 33, Utah 25; Washington 33, Utah 30.
2018 • Washington 21, Utah 7; Washington State 28, Utah 24.
Even before they meet any of their South rivals, beginning next week vs. Arizona, the Utes could be way behind in the division race. And here comes Stanford, another North power.
Rationalization is not one of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” the book that made his family's name famous in business management, but Ute receiver Britain Covey figures the Utes can overcome those two losses by defeating Stanford. “There's only so much longer you can keep saying it,” Covey acknowledged, but here's what he's saying: Utah's tough schedule to start Pac-12 play made a 1-2 start seem reasonable. So even at 0-2, the Utes can stay on track. “If we beat Stanford,” Covey said, “our whole mindset toward winning the South is still in that same place.”
That's entirely possible, based on Utah's history vs. the Cardinal in the Pac-12 era, yet difficult, considering the state of the Ute offense.
The Cardinal are coming off a 38-17 loss at Notre Dame and may be missing star running back Bryce Love. The 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up remains questionable with an ankle injury. Yet the Cardinal have beaten USC and Oregon mainly with the passing of quarterback K.J. Costello, and recent evidence shows that not a lot of offensive production is required to beat Utah.
The Utes' latest tendency is an inability to adjust offensively in second halves, producing a total of three points against Washington and WSU. The Ute defense allowed only 10 points in those halves, after being vulnerable earlier.
Utah's challenge is to “find a way to get the offense and defense both playing well at the same time, or the same half,” linebacker Chase Hansen said.
Leo Belnap’s parents, Ben and Jackee, will be hoping the Utes can put it all together, even if the ticket money they collected since February is beyond repair. The Holladay residents, devoted Utah fans, usually save money by means other than merely stacking the cash, but they did so with their 2018 Ute ticket funding, having collected it since Christmas. And then their son, who has learned to help his mother shred paper, launched his own project last weekend.
The timing was interesting, considering how Leo's life is tied to difficult moments in Ute athletics. His mother went into labor in March 2016, during Utah's loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament.
Ben Belnap tweeted the story of the mutilated money and has laughed about it in media interviews this week, just for the sake of having a “hilarious moment from our guy, Leo” to remember, he said.
Maybe the Utes will stage a turnaround to make their troubles with North opponents just as easy to dismiss. Just as likely, they’ll have to look forward to playing Oregon State in 2019.
UTAH AT STANFORD
At Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif.
Kickoff • 8:30 p.m. MDT.
TV • ESPN.
Radio • ESPN 700.
Records • Utah 2-2 (0-2 Pac-12); Stanford 4-1 (2-0 Pac-12).
Series history • Tied, 4-4.
Last meeting • Stanford 23, Utah 20 (2017).
About the Utes • Utah hopes senior center Lo Falemaka can return from a leg injury that sidelined him during last week’s loss at Washington State. If he’s unable to play, the versatile Nick Ford will start at his third position of the season. … Even after allowing 445 yards to WSU, the Utes are No. 5 in the FBS in total defense (264.8). … The Utes' last visit to Stanford came in 2014, when Travis Wilson’s TD pass to Kenneth Scott gave them a 20-17 win in a double-overtime game that was tied 7-7 after 60 minutes.
About the Cardinal • Coach David Shaw is 77-23 in his eighth season. … Having played good defenses from San Diego State and Notre Dame, Stanford is 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing, averaging 94.4 yards, and 11th in total offense, averaging 340.4 yards. … JJ Arcega-Whiteside missed last October’s win over Utah; he’s second in the country with eight receiving touchdowns.