You know where shortchanged is in the dictionary? The same place shrewd and shocking and shredded and showtime are … between Shelley and Shyne.
Shove it is in there somewhere, too.
Sometimes, the football gods are cruel jokesters.
They bless you in October, and they punch you in November. They give you an open shot at winning the South, going to the Pac-12 championship game and possibly even playing in the Rose Bowl and, then, for giggles and grins, they kick you in the tenders, they get your starting quarterback and running back injured with season-enders, guys who account for all but 15 percent of your offense, and they laugh at your pain.
When they do, there’s only one thing to do.
Kick — quite literally, looking at you, Matt Gay — and laugh back.
You tell them to shut up with doses of defense, with calm direction from redshirt freshman QB Jason Shelley, with hard running from Armand Shyne, with six field goals from Gay.
That’s what you do.
That’s what Utah did on Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, beating football’s pranksters, bad fortune and the Oregon Ducks, 32-25.
When Shelley was asked after the game about the Utes’ struggles, at times, in the red zone, he answered with a decently funny line: “We just wanted to get Matt Gay some field goals.”
Laugh along, football gods, laugh along.
What word did Shelley use to describe his first college start?
“He’s a confident kid,” Kyle Whittingham said.
Whittingham also complimented Shyne, noting that he rushed for 175 yards, which was one more than he got, but who’s complaining?
“I was decent,” Shyne said.
Everyone wondered and watched what the two Ute backups would do on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the effect they would have on a game the Utes pretty much had to win to keep big dreams alive. A broken collarbone and a busted knee might complicate the idea, but not extinguish it.
What they did was go ahead and draw inspiration from a defense that was just good enough to slow an Oregon attack, from a great kicker, and from their own talents and savvy, which were beyond what some had imagined.
Shelley directed an effective Utah offense, throwing for 262 yards on 18 completions, running for 22 more yards, including two touchdowns, suffering no turnovers. He moved the ball around, passing to seven different receivers.
Shyne averaged 6.7 yards per carry on 26 attempts, doing what primary Utah running backs have done in key wins for as long as anyone could remember.
All told, that Ute offense rolled up 494 yards, outpacing the Ducks by 89. It gained 24 first downs to Oregon’s 17.
Shyne looked an awful lot like a starter, as did Shelley, which means three things: 1) They are talented dudes, 2) The Utes are deep, and 3) Utah football would not simply acquiesce to their troubles, the ones bent on messing up a promising stretch run toward that possible South division title.
Whittingham said he and his players met on Monday, determined and disinclined to let misfortune or curses or injuries to Tyler Huntley or anything else push them into self-pity mode. Instead, they dug in, absorbing the Zack Moss news — his knee locked up on him getting into bed and now he needs surgery — and powering forward.
“It was a gutsy performance by our guys,” he said.
The Utah defense was the Utah defense again, not whatever it was the previous week against Arizona State, when it surrendered 251 yards on the ground, and last year against the Ducks, when it gave up 347.
Not this time (117 yards).
What happens next for the Utes depends on what happens around them. If they beat Colorado in Boulder, they need Arizona State to lose to Oregon at home or Arizona on the road. If that happens, they’ll win the South. If it doesn’t, they won’t.
Either way, Utah kept hope alive here — “We’re still in the hunt,” Whittingham said — when it appeared as though the jokesters from afar had done them in.
The way the Utes said they see it, there is no November curse. They lost to Arizona State last week, and that was their own fault. They’ll carry that burden and deal with it, come what may. But adversity and injuries, whatever the cause, whoever causes them, can take a flying leap.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.