Gordon Monson: Was Utah a quality team that lost its way at the end? Or a team that was made to look better than it really was?

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Not the season. Not the year. Not Tyler Huntley’s Utah career.

No. Not like this.

Back in August, the Utah quarterback predicted the Utes would have an extraordinary season, saying “the sky’s the limit” for this team.

He was right for most of the fall, as the Utes soared for all but one week.

But then, December arrived. And the Utes sagged.

Their deck dropped oh-so low on Tuesday night at the Alamo Bowl, where the Utes limbo’ed down to a 38-10 defeat at the hands of the Texas Longhorns. In Huntley’s final game, he was neither efficient, nor comfortable, passing for a mere 126 yards. By game’s end, he was just beaten, left alone by a run game that deserted him — Zack Moss gained only 57 yards — and an offensive line that could not protect him.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Texas Longhorns defensive back B.J. Foster (25) and defensive lineman Malcolm Roach (32) pile on Utah Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) for a quarterback sack in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019.

And the weird thing was, the great Utah defense, the group that led the nation against the run, the one that scared the bejeebers out of most of its opposition through November, absolutely collapsed, too, yielding 438 yards. The Utes’ attack managed just 254.

In the seconds immediately after the clock ran out at the Alamodome, the Utes lumbered off the field, hats off, heads down, maybe not the same way they wandered off against Oregon in the harsh, more significant loss in the Pac-12 championship game. But it was close, even in a game some saw as a downgraded kind of exhibition, a consolation.

Losing hurts worse than winning feels good, no matter how anyone characterized this bowl game. Getting crushed, though, hurts considerably more.

For the second straight game, Utah didn’t just lose, it got beat up, losing the physical battle. It got punched and popped, jabbed and slapped. It repeatedly got hit over the head. It got dominated and embarrassed.

And in doing so, the Utes became a stupid statistic. They were the ninth-straight team to lose the Pac-12 title game and go on to lose its bowl game, as well. Maybe the physical deficiencies here were related to the mental ones.

A letdown led to a beatdown.

Either way, it was a betrayal. A self-betrayal.

This was not proper punctuation for a Utah team, a Utah season that deserved better. But there it was on Tuesday night in living color. Defeat dressed out — and smeared in burnt-orange — as humiliation. The Utes’ 11 wins against one previous loss were tagged now with those two final knockouts, lopsidedly answering the question coming in about who would have the greater motivation — a Utah team that a few short weeks ago thought it might earn a place in the college football playoff or 7-5 Texas?

It was Texas, by 500 miles.

Utah plainly could not stop UT quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who threw for 201 yards, three touchdowns, and ran for another 73 and one score. The absence of cornerback Jaylon Johnson and safety Julian Blackmon hampered the Utes, but could not explain away the totality of Utah’s defensive problems. Ehlinger’s gifted receivers Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson combined for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Keaontay Ingram gained 108 yards and plowed in for a TD.

The Utes started flat and slow, falling behind, 10-zip, in the first half, then 17-0 in the third quarter. They eventually got to the end zone, but by that time, the count was 24-10, and the Longhorns just kept throttling and thrashing, finishing the thing with consecutive TDs.

At one point, the Utes got angry and committed a couple of personal fouls, which helped not at all. But by then, it was painfully obvious — to them and to anyone waiting for the authentic Utah team, the one that had presented itself so prominently through the regular season, to emerge out of the messy debris — that on this night, the Utes would not be those Utes.

Maybe they never were.

Maybe they were the beneficiaries of a relatively easy schedule, a favorable Pac-12 slate, a record that seemed more than it was.

Or maybe they really were a quality team that simply lost its traction, lost its will, lost its way at the end.

It’s hard to determine, on a sad and sorry night in Texas, which was worse.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.