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Turning Points And Questions About Utah Loss

Utah celebrated a double overtime win over Oregon St. Thursday night, as the series continued its recent trend of overtime thrillers. But did it need to happen?
Utah celebrated a double overtime win over Oregon St. Thursday night, as the series continued its recent trend of overtime thrillers. But did it need to happen?
(Photo by Andy Wooldridge)

Oregon St. and upwardly mobile Utah played a tremendously competitive and tremendously physical, if not tremendously aesthetic football game to kick off the Pac-12 weekend, in which the then 20th ranked Utes pulled out a 29-23 double overtime victory that moved them up to #19 this week.

And Utah celebrated, while Oregon St. (again) failed to break through the glass ceiling, in an opportunity on the national stage to do so. Loosing big games is disappointing, but by itself, not all that troubling. How the Beavers went about contributing to their loss is troubling, though.

Many have pointed to Devontae Booker's 3 touchdown runs, or his 229 rushing yards, as the keys to Utah's win, though more might note his 53 yard 4th quarter run that set up the Ute's only trip into the end zone during regulation as the biggest play in the game, and that undoubtedly was the single defining moment, eclipsing Sean Mannion's 72 yard completion to Jordan Villamin for his first career touchdown.

But there were 5 (!) key sequences that all combined to set up the Ute's big play and necessitate overtime in a game the Beavers should have at least had a chance to win in regulation, but for their own miscues.

In no way do those events or this analysis IN ANY WAY diminish what Utah accomplished; they played over 3 1/2 hours of knock down, drag out football, and deserve to sit squarely in the Pa-12 South, Conference, and National picture, as they get ready to hose USC Saturday night back at Rice-Eccles.

But these events should also prompt Oregon St. to take a good hard look in the mirror. And hopefully take steps they already should have to address the mistakes that happened and didn't need to. It wouldn't hurt to explain why the choices that were made were the ones chosen either.

Sean Mannion Terron Ward

From my perspective, the real biggest turning point in the game came in the 3rd quarter, when Mannion's pass went off the hands of wide open Terron Ward, whom Utah had lost, above. Had Ward hauled in the ball he would have trotted into the end zone for an uncontested touchdown.

That hurt the Beavers cause, but a near perfect pass on a perfect call can still be dropped, and most will acknowledge that Mannion should continue to throw to Ward, and Oregon St.'s chances are enhanced when he does. Drops happen.

What happened next was much more concerning. The drop brought about a 4th & 4 at the Utah 34. Coach Mike Riley's options were to take points, a 51 yard field goal to tie the game, a long kick, but well within Trevor Romaine's range (Romaine subsequently made a 49 yard game tieing field goal that was easily tood), or play field position, and have Keith Kostol corner kick Utah back inside their own 10 yard line.

Both were higher percentage choices than the one selected, a 4th down pass, especially when mass confusion and the ensuing protection problems resulted in Mannion throwing the ball 10 yards out of bounds, on an ill-conceived play that had no chance to succeed.

Coupled with the 4th quarter 4th down possession where yet another delay of game penalty that pushed Oregon St. out of field goal range, made necessary by 2 timeouts that had to be sacrificed to deal with other errors in the 3rd quarter that left the Beavers in a situation where they couldn't afford to use their last time out, it completely changed the last Oregon St. drive of the game, and the outcome.

Had a field goal eventuated from either of those 2 opportunities, Oregon St. would have been playing for the win at the end of the game, and could have done so with Romaine's field goal, with overtime already in their pocket as a worst case scenario, instead of a best case one.
One would have thought that the lessons learned from last year's blown opportunities for wins against Stanford and Oregon, other instances where failure to take points cost wins, would include taking points at any and every opportunity in close games against quality opponents. But not only has that fundamental of jv football not yet been learned, it still hasn't even been grasped that you need to have a pre-plan in place for whatever you decide to do when these situations develop.

The same can be said for the fiasco that cost the first time out in the second half, when center Josh Mitchell lost his shoe. Instead of having Mitchell come out, and have someone else, probably Roman Sapolu, slide over to center for a play or two.

Instead, Oregon St. watched Mitchell fumble around until it was too late to do anything but squander a valuable second half time out, in a situation the team should have pre-planned for.

Even less explicable was the entire team mis-reading the scoreboard, and sending the punt return team onto the field on 3rd down later in the 3rd quarter, necessitating a time out to put the defense back on the field.

That simply can't happen.

The fact that both fiascos did meant Oregon St., who should have been playing for the win instead of a tie, had to be much more conservative on their final drive than they could have been had they had those time outs left to clean up anything that arose out of taking a more aggressive approach to winning the game.

The 5th key of the game was involved with Booker's big run, and his subsequent touchdown that put Utah ahead, and its impossible to say whether a mistake was involved or not without further information.

Michael Doctor did not play a single down in that series for the Oregon St. defense. Whether that was a planned rotation as the Beavers used nickel coverage, and rotated linebackers to keep them fresh, as they did all night, or for some other reason, is at this point still unknown.

At the time, I wondered if Doctor might have been hurt, and it was certainly a possibility, as a half dozen other Beavers had also had to come out of the game, some of them not to return.

But Doctor did return in overtime, and there was no mention of any injury, equipment problem, or other issue when Doctor talked to the press in the locker room afterwards.

There might have been a perfectly good explanation for not having Doctor on the field for the only drive Utah scored a touchdown on in full-field, regulation play. Or maybe not.

As frustrating as some of Oregon St.'s in game incidents are, they pale compared to the post game contrived love-fest sessions that are served up, where former Beaver quarterback Steve Preece pitches softball batting practice, instead of an actual press conference, as are held at some other places.

Those don't always yield much information, because some of the new-wave journalists on the beat today don't think to ask detailed questions about key decisions like the one to not have Doctor on the field for the game's key drive, and sometimes coaches flat refuse to answer relevant questions they don't care to address.

I don't know what the reason for Doctor's absence was, and I also don't know whether it would have made a difference. But I would like to have found out the answer to at least the question, if not the situation.

It's not that these were the only questionable coaching decisions of the weekend; I'm sure lots of people are curious as to why California Coach Sonny Dykes called or allowed Jared Goff to essentially throw a win away, with an ill-advised throw that took on unnecessary risk that came back to bite the Bears, who lost to UCLA 36-34.

At least Coach Dykes explained in detail the call, and the thinking behind it.

And there are lots of calls for replacing the quarterback and the offensive coordinator in Seattle, after Oregon extended their winning streak over Washington to 11 blowout wins all by 3 or more scores with their 45-20 rout of the Huskies.

This despite the fact that almost indistinguishably similar results have been obtained with numerous other Husky quarterbacks, and OC/play callers (allowing for various staffing configurations), a group that includes several NFL guys, a guy who owns most or the UW school quarterback ratings, and a lot of guys, present incumbents included, with a lot of Ws on their resumes.

And there are Husky honks that are looking at their current running backs as the problem, despite the fact that the same results happened with Chris Polk and Bishop Sankey, 2 of the best backs in the history of the conference, never mind the UW program.

Another case of not taking an objective look in the mirror at the fact that the problem lies elsewhere (in this case, the fact that the Ducks have a decided tactical speed advantage at and beyond the line of scrimmage).

The common denominator is not objectively addressing the issues in your own control, issues that didn't just arise.


Oregon St. now must prepare for a trip to the Farm, to take on Stanford in a Homecoming game for the Cardinal, after the formerly ranked defending Pac-12 North and Conference Champions were squashed 26-10 by the Arizona St. Darkness Devils last night in Tempe, a win that gave home teams a 3-2 edge in conference games for the weekend, quite a departure from previous weeks, especially after the Beavers had continued the trend of not defending their home turf Thursday night, their 4th consecutive home conference loss.

Programming note; as a result of both Oregon St. and Stanford losing, the game, originally slated for an ABC/ESPN split national broadcast, will now be the afternoon ESPN2 game.