Should Florida’s goal-line stand vs. Utah have been reviewed? Kyle Whittingham laments red zone issues as Utah football moves forward after loss

Utes fell at The Swamp, 29-26, in a game that featured Utan coming up short in the red zone, specifically in two instances

(Phelan M. Ebenhack | AP) Utah quarterback Cameron Rising (7) runs for yardage during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Gainesville, Fla.

Less than 48 hours removed from a gut-wrenching 29-26 season-opening loss at the University Florida, Kyle Whittingham was still lamenting missed opportunities inside the red zone at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Less than 48 hours removed, one particular red zone sequence stood out among others.

On the first drive of the second half, the Utes faced a third-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Cam Rising took a shotgun snap and on the keeper, got hit at around the 3, but his second effort appeared to propel him over the goal line for what would have been a 20-13 lead. Instead, Rising was ruled down inside the 1, setting up fourth-and-goal. That third-down keeper did not go to a monitor review.

Rising late Saturday night was adamant that he crossed the plane. With the benefit of hindsight, as well as a review of the film, Whittingham’s stance Monday on the play had not changed since Saturday night.

“They look at every play, it’s not like if you don’t challenge it, it’s not being reviewed,” Whittingham said. “It is being reviewed, every play is reviewed, every single play in the entire game. The replay guys are looking at things, and if they see something questionable or suspect, they stop and keep looking.

“Nobody up there (up in the booth on the Utah coaching staff) thought, or at least nobody had a vantage point where they thought it should have been challenged. It looks questionable on our tape. I’ve had people watching it on TV telling me he was down, I don’t know. It’s part of the game, but they had ample time to look at it.”

The fact that Utah coaches in the booth did not see enough evidence to implore Whittingham to challenge the play has been a point of conversation in the days after the game. How many ESPN cameras were at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and what angles were available?

Of the 40-plus games produced by ESPN over the weekend, Utah-Florida, a primetime kickoff on ESPN involving the No. 7 team in the country, would have been among the most-resourced games produced by the media giant. With that, it is believed that ESPN had handheld cameras on each goal line, which in theory should have produced an advantageous angle on the Rising keeper. Of course, the problem with a review is there would have been a large concentration of players in on the play, making it difficult to see Rising crossing the goal line, no matter how many different angles were available.

Later in his media session, after answering a question about poor tackling from his run defense, Whittingham, unprovoked, went back to the Rising keeper.

“So you’re telling me Cam was in without a doubt?” Whittingham asked no one in particular.

Two media members present spoke up, saying they thought the play was questionable in terms of Rising crossing the plane, which indicated that having the play overturned on review would have been tough.

“Any time it’s questionable, you’re not going to get the call because it’s going to be upheld, or the ruling on the field stands would be the outcome based on what you’re telling me,” Whittingham said.

The third-and-goal from the 3 was sandwiched in between two other frustrating plays. On second-and-goal from the 1, Tavion Thomas tripped over Rising’s knee on a handoff, falling down for a 2-yard loss. On fourth-and-goal inside the 1 after the Rising keeper, Utah went back to Thomas. He may have crossed the plane, but he was ruled down inside the 1. That play went to review, and was upheld, giving the ball back to Florida.

“As you reexamine it, you can be a little more creative play calling-wise, that’s the first thing that Coach Ludwig will tell you is that maybe we don’t get quite as vanilla down there,” Whittingham said. “Last year, we were a very good red zone team and again, give a lot of credit to Florida for what they did down there.”

A traveling nightmare

Utah’s traveling party touchdown on a charter Sunday evening around 7:20 p.m., roughly 17 hours after it was scheduled to land at Salt Lake City Airport.

The team charter was scheduled to take off Saturday evening at midnight ET, but never did thanks to mechanical issues. It was rescheduled for 4:10 a.m., but that never took off either, leaving the team to spend the evening strewn about Gainesville Regional Airport.

“In my 30-plus years of coaching, that was the most-nightmarish, ridiculous situation that I’ve ever come across,” Whittingham said. “Leave it at that, it was one thing after another. Didn’t get home until 8 or 8:30 we pulled in here.”

In a tweet responding to the Salt Lake Tribune’s reporting of the travel troubles, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan thanked the University of Florida and its AD, Scott Stricklin for their assistance in helping to provide a hotel partner, buses and meals. The team at some point left the Gainesville terminal and spent several hours at a nearby hotel before boarding an evening charter back to Salt Lake City.

“I feel bad for the players,” Whittingham said. “When you play a physical game like that, any game is physical, but especially that one, and you have no time to rest and recover. You’re sitting on a bus, then a plane, then a terminal, I felt bad for those guys. Coaches, we can deal with it, but players, unfortunate to have them have to go through that.”

Looking back at the Rising INT

Just as Whittingham had a chance to review the goal line stand by Monday morning, he also considered the Rising’s game-sealing interception in the end zone with 17 seconds left.

On a drive that began at his own 25-yard line with 1:25 and two timeouts remaining, Rising marched Utah down to the Florida 6. On second-and-goal out of the shotgun, Rising patiently waited for the play to develop. He tried to squeeze a pass intended for tight end Dalton Kincaid into traffic, but a diving interception by Gators linebacker Amari Burney sealed the victory.

“Dalton fell down, that’s who he was going to,” Whittingham said. “It was a little turn route and Dalton fell down. They played a nice scheme with two ‘Rat’ players in the end zone. That was their coverage of choice, the inside ‘Rat’ player did a nice job. I haven’t spoken to Cam specifically about the play, but I’ve watched the tape and talked to (offensive coordinator) Andy (Ludwig) about it.”

Rising missed on a couple of first-half throws to open receivers, but was otherwise solid in finishing 22-for-32 for 216 yards, a touchdown and the interception. He rushed for another 91 yards on seven attempts, some of that coming on designed keepers.

“They’re all big, every game is big, so I don’t buy into this being any more important than any other game,” Whittingham said. “Cam is our guy, I thought he had a good night, nearly 70% completion percentage, over 200 yards, very valuable running the football. Cam is our leader and even though he wishes had that one back, I thought he played well for the most part.”

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