The Utes continue to become the Utes.
And there’s nobody they’d rather be, should rather be.
After two straight losses, you had to wonder.
Not on Friday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, as Utah crushed Arizona 42-10 for its second straight league win, leveling its conference record at 2-2 and positioning itself for a strong run at a South Division title.
Speaking of becoming, that’s what this season has become all about: Winning the South and getting into the Pac-12 championship game. As everyone around here is aware, that is something the Utes have never achieved. They are the only team in the South not to have won it, and they most definitely want to leave that particular distinction a few freeway exits behind them.
All they have to do to make it happen is fulfill their own promise. They have the talent. They have the horsepower. That much was evident to many before the ascent started. It was less apparent after a lackluster extraneous win over Northern Illinois and then losses to Washington and Washington State.
And then, Utah stirred. And by stirred, I mean they looked at their own reflection and recognized themselves — in potential, in ability and in methodology.
Kyle Witthingham straight said it: “I think we’re figuring out who we are.”
That showed in a rousing road win over Stanford.
It emerged again against Arizona at Rice-Eccles.
It’s not overly complicated.
On offense, the Utes gave the rock to Zack Moss and Armand Shyne, and allowed Tyler Huntley to run and throw the ball effectively and efficiently. He completed 19 passes for 201 yards, with two touchdown throws, playing only part of the back half. He even caught a long TD pass from Britain Covey. He also threw a pick deep in Utah territory, but Arizona couldn’t take advantage. The Wildcats got their only touchdown on a drive early in the fourth quarter.
Otherwise, it was a darn-near flawless show, made more that way by an offensive line that created space on the runs and gave Huntley time to be selective. The big’uns up front get bits of credit when things go well, and they deserved a whole lot more for their effort on this occasion. Whittingham said that he was encouraged by the “young” offensive line’s progression, that he thought it would get even better.
On defense, Utah had the challenge of both pressuring and containing Wildcats quarterback Kahlil Tate, a task made far more manageable by Tate’s bum ankle. Unable to move, the starter was replaced by Rhett Rodriguez.
Neither could do much damage against that Utah D, which has yielded a notable amount of yardage in recent weeks through the air. Not so much on Friday night.
The Utes were absolutely dominant on both sides of the ball. They outclassed Arizona, going up 14-zip in the first quarter, 28-0 at the half, 35-0 in the third quarter … and, well, from there you had to feel sorry for the Wildcats, who knew they had no chance of catching up.
That, however, was not the Utes’ problem.
Their collective mind was fully charged with their own accomplishment, with the work ahead already creeping into the far reaches of their consciousness.
Next up for Utah: USC at Rice-Eccles and UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
If Friday night was the truth, if the Utes really can become themselves, be their best selves, fulfill their potential, the only remaining question is the one already mentioned — whether this version is tough and together enough to do what no Utah team has done before.
It’s a whole different distinction, one that’s standing silhouetted in the backlit doorway, heel turned, beckoning them, asking them to come on over, if they will.
It’s looking more and more like they’re leaning in that direction.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.