The bitter sting of losing badly to TCU two years in a row has been replaced with a renewed focus to keep the season on track.
But so much was on the line last week for Utah: a Mountain West title, a potential berth in a BCS game. The Utes had plenty of prove not just to themselves, but to their skeptics, many of whom believed they were not that good.
After the 47-7 loss, Utah fell from No. 5 to No. 14 in the BCS rankings and those critics squawked about the overrated Utes, while the Horned Frogs proved once again there is a good deal of distance between themselves and the second-best team in the conference. In their last two games, TCU has outscored Utah 102-35. Utah moves on to the Pac-12 next season, so there will be no way to avenge the losses.
What was completely striking about the game was the way TCU dominated. With all the national attention and hype going into the game, many people expected … a game, not a drubbing. The 40-point loss was the fourth-largest home loss in school history. Utah, had won 21 straight at home coming into the game.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in a phone interview this week there is nothing he would do differently against TCU.
“No, nothing,” Whittingham said. “They’re a great football team and it was a case where they were just the better team.”
The better team everywhere. Andy Dalton completely outplayed Jordan Wynn at quarterback. The TCU defense controlled the line of scrimmage and showed just why it is ranked No. 1 in the country. Utah had four turnovers, just 11 first downs, went 3-of-11 on third down and crossed the 50 for the first time early in the fourth quarter.
A rebuilt Utah defense that had garnered praise for its solid play gave up 558 yards of offense. The last time Utah gave up 500 yards to an opponent was to TCU last season.
“It was probably one of the worst losses I’ve ever had, and it changed a lot of how our season can be and the things we could have done,” left tackle John Cullen said. “But it’s one of those things. That’s football. You don’t get to be perfect every week. You have to perform.”
When asked to evaluate how Wynn did, Whittingham said, “About the same way every other quarterback has done against TCU this year.”
As for whether TCU deserves a spot in the championship game, Whittingham said, “They’re an exceptional team. They’re one of the top teams in the country, if not the top team. I hope they get treated fairly in the end when it’s all said and done.”
Whittingham said his team put the lost behind it Sunday. He has seen plenty of focus during practice this week as the team prepares to play at Notre Dame for the first time in school history.
“Nobody is hanging their head or feeling sorry for themselves,” Whittingham said. “The only remedy to what happened to us is to get back on the field and start working for the next opponent.”
That next opponent has fallen on much harder times than Utah. But even still, a season that had so much promise might feel like a disappointment because so much was lost in the loss.
Utah is most likely headed to the Las Vegas Bowl if it can win out. The last three games are no cakewalks, either. The Utes travel to much improved San Diego State next week, then close at home against rival BYU. The Cougars may be down this year, but you know what they say about rivalry games.
“We can’t dwell on what happened or what could have happened,” Cullen said. “It’s all about going up to South Bend and playing the Irish.”