Utah football finished off its regularly-scheduled season, the one without much meaning, at least not numerically, on Saturday at Colorado. There is one more Pac-12 game for the Utes, yet to be determined against which opponent and where, but … what of it?
The numbers up on the board at snowy and unpeopled Folsom Field did indeed spell out a winner and a loser, the Utes wearing the former label by the count of 38-21. But those numbers meant less than they would in any other year.
Fittingly enough in a college game, they signified what mattered most — higher football learning, denoting educational and experiential advancement for a young team in need of proper schooling. In the years ahead, 2020 will be nothing but a faint memory, blurred and forced from remembrance by a pandemic everyone will want to forget.
“It’s a four-game season that feels like a 14-game season,” Kyle Whittingham said afterward. “It’s been rough, it’s been different, it’s been challenging.”
Said quarterback Jake Bentley: “This year’s been hard on all of us.”
And linebacker Nephi Sewell wrapped it up best in the postgame: “I feel like we can be so much better than we are. We’re just scratching the surface. … We can go from good to great.”
That’s it. The truth and a noble goal packaged together.
The wins, including this one, and losses now are useful only as a foundation for the long-awaited normalcy of what comes next season and the following season and the season after that. Even eligibility stands still at present, freshmen staying freshmen, sophomores staying sophomores, juniors remaining juniors and seniors remaining seniors.
It’s as though the actual results in the here and now don’t count. Only the progress.
And for the youthful Utes, they’ll take it and use it, as they should.
What they experienced on Saturday was more growth in their ongoing evolution from a team without seasoning to a team with it. The veteran parts of the outfit are mere scattered pieces, but the more abundant litter of pups is growing up.
Minute by minute, mistake by mistake, play by play, Utah is getting a taste of how its talent can be harnessed and strengthened and organized into something better.
Good things are just around the corner. A blind man could see it.
And that’s what everyone saw at Folsom — healthy matriculation.
The first half had bits of the positive and the negative. The Utes scored on their first possession, looking fine doing it. And next thing, they settled into a kind of offensive and defensive and special-teams blah.
They couldn’t run the ball. They gave up an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. They allowed big plays by Colorado. They trailed 14-10 at the break.
In the following half, though, Utah ran the ball well, led by Ty Jordan and his 147 yards, they threw it efficiently, and after yielding a long TD pass on Colorado’s first play, they slammed the door on the Buffs’ ground game, Jarek Broussard, in particular. The second-leading rusher in college football gained just 80 yards here, which was 221 fewer than he put on Arizona last week.
All the progression made against a surprising 4-0 CU team, a team that was enjoying the most insignificant undefeated season in school history, a season that could help turn a feckless football program into a rebounding one, but that, either way, with the loss to the Utes, will leave the Buffaloes leaning toward a prize that leaned away.
What this means for the Utes is a 2-2 record that soon will be left by the roadside, after one more game, fading somewhere into the middle mist of a canceled spring practice and the coming offseason workouts in preparation for the real deal the next time around.
“I’m glad we won,” said Bentley. “But there are things we can fix.”
The quarterback situation might be one of them, but the South Carolina transfer showed strong and resilient in that second half, when the Utes overcame their goofs to score 28 points against CU’s seven.
Britain Covey, among others, had a stellar game, and he said, speaking about himself: “I’m excited. I feel I have the best years ahead of me.”
He could have been speaking for the entire team.
If he were, he’d be right. The 2020 season will go down as a strange steppingstone for the Utes rather than an anchor chained to their necks. Whether they finish at 3-2 or 2-3, whatever, that really doesn’t matter. What will matter is the double-barreled bounce and boost they’re getting out of it.
“We’re excited,” Whittingham said, “about their future.”
He — they — should be.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.