The Utes are enjoying — and learning from — their ‘smartest, dumbest’ decisions at Baylor

Between trying to milk the clock on the go-ahead TD, surrendering an almost-disastrous deep pass, and avoiding a pass-interference flag on the final play, Utah’s last half-minute yielded several big lessons.

Utah running back Jaylon Glover scores a touchdown past Baylor linebacker Brooks Miller in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)

Utah’s come-from-behind 20-13 victory over Baylor is now days in the rearview, and the Utes have largely turned their attention to preparing for this Saturday’s home matchup vs. Weber State.

Still, they have not quite moved on from everything from their performance against the Bears.

Given the hectic nature of the end to the game, coaches and players alike have been dwelling on situational awareness this week.

People on both side of the ball insist there’s much to be learned.

Starting with Jaylon Glover’s go-ahead rushing touchdown.

After Cole Bishop intercepted Sawyer Robertson with 1:35 to go, the Utah offense made its way to the Baylor 11-yard line with 29 seconds remaining.

Quarterback Nate Johnson handed the ball off to Glover, and after he got away from one would-be tackler, it suddenly appeared as though the Bears instead were happy to concede the touchdown, knowing their only chance at salvaging the game was to get the ball back with some time remaining.

Glover could have crossed the goal line with about 22 seconds to go, but intuiting Baylor’s plan, he instead took a sharp left turn and ran parallel to the end zone for a few yards, getting critical seconds to elapse before a defender shoved him across the plane with 17 ticks to go.

“I felt like it was the right thing to do,” Glover explained Monday. “… If they were going to let me score, I was going to run out as much [time] as I can ‘til I walked into the end zone.”

Head coach Kyle Whittingham noted postgame that milking the clock a bit “was head’s up on his part, very head’s up.”

Running backs coach Quinton Ganther was less enamored of it.

“My reaction is, ‘I’m gonna kill this kid,’” Ganther said with a laugh following Monday’s practice. “… That wasn’t the time for that situation. I mean, it was smart, but it was dumb at the same time. We have to make sure that we get in the end zone and go up by six.”

He added that he understood and appreciated the intent behind it, but wants players to stick to the prescribed order of operations. In such time-and-distance scenarios, the marching orders are: If we’re tied, we want to score; if we’re up one, we want to take a knee; and if we’re up two [or more], we want to score.

Asked what he told Glover when he came back to the sideline, Ganther smiled and replied, “Something that the cameras can’t hear.”

Glover confirmed he got an earful, and conceded he knew the coaches’ preference, but maintained he made the correct decision in the moment.

“He told me that was probably one of the smartest, dumbest decisions I’ve made,” Glover said. “… He went down those situations — I already knew, but I just felt like it was the right call at the time. We live and we learn, but I’m glad we got to win.”

And in truth, those extra seconds he ran off the clock may well have saved the game, considering the near-meltdown the defense experienced in the immediate aftermath.

Baylor got a kickoff return to its 27-yard line, then a four-yard completion to the 31 … then Hal Presley got behind Utes cornerback Miles Battle for a 47-yard completion to Utah’s 22 with one second left.

“Obviously they got one on me,” Battle said after Tuesday’s practice. “I was a little nosy looking in the backfield — that was the first ball that came my way in two games, so just got a little nosy. And then I knew the next play they were gonna hit they were gonna try and come back at me because they got the one on me.

“So I just knew in my head, I was like, ‘Well, I gotta make the next play,’” he added. “I’ve been playing college football for a while, so I know you gotta have a short-term memory and just play the next play.”

True to his prediction, the Bears did come at him again, with Robertson attempting a fade down the left side to Ketron Jackson, Jr.

There was contact between them as they jockeyed for position, both tracking the ball, which ultimately fell to the ground, incomplete. Baylor players, coaches, and fans all howled for a pass interference penalty, but there was no flag forthcoming.

Naturally, Battle believes the no-call was the correct call.

“Yeah, of course I thought it was clean!” he said, laughing. “I was looking at the ball most of the time. I knew where the receiver was. I was really going for the ball more than going for him — he was just in my way.”