The Utah Utes football team was expected to win Thursday night against Northern Colorado.
But were they planning on holding the Big Sky Conference Bears to just 114 yards of total offense and a measly seven — yes, seven — first downs?
Even a team as hapless, and hopeless, as UNC — and currently on a 12-game losing streak — couldn’t have dreamed of what happened next.
They didn’t even cross the 50-yard line. And so, little yardage usually equals no points.
In all actuality it was as if the more athletic Utes were on horseback, slinging bows and arrows at will at outnumbered bears lumbering through a proverbial forest seeking any sort of shelter.
On this night the BCS-member, Pac-12 Utes would provide none. It was such a rarity, in fact, that the last time a Utah shutout occurred it took place along the plains of Wyoming in 2007, a 50-0 win.
Northern Colorado coach Earnest Collins Jr. took the loss in stride. “The thing that was great for me is that our kids played extremely hard. They kept battling and kept fighting. We had some miscues on offense and defense, and couldn’t get it going in the return game, but I was proud of our kids,” he said.
His kids, severely outmanned, did all they could in the first quarter holding the Utes scoreless. But then came cracks in the armor, and by the time the game reached halftime it was all over but for the crying in the locker room.
21-0 was the score then, and the story was easy enough to write as the Utes cruised to the 41-0 victory. Were it not for some bad special teams — an issue the Utes must correct in a hurry — the score would have been worse, God forbid.
“You’re down because, like I said, one of our key people didn’t finish the game. He’s a well-liked guy and one of the leaders on our team. But our kids aren’t down. They’re pissed off they didn’t win the game, and we didn’t score any points. But it’s one game. Even if we’d won it, it’s just one game. We’ll regroup and get back to practice on Sunday, watch the film tomorrow and be ready to go,” said Collins.
And the Bears do go home with a six-figure paycheck for playing while the Utes got a little work in, in what was little more than a glorified scrimmage.
It seemed every defensive player got in on the act, with 25 players either getting a tackle or assisting on one, and another seven had tackles for loss.
“The defense did exactly what it was supposed to do. They played tough against the run, won third downs, got a couple of takeaways, and got a shutout. You don’t always do what you’re supposed to do so [when you do] that’s a positive,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.
But the highlight of the night came when a Kruger brother (Joe, in this case) dared go where no Kruger has gone before — in case you forget Paul stumbling and bumbling before reaching the goal line in the 2008 Holy War — the end zone.
Brother Joe’s pick six – a 24-yard interception return with just over 10 minutes remaining — put bubble wrap and a Rice Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah postmark on a victory.
But that’s what good defenses do, they box in opponents until they cannot breathe.
The Utes’ starting field position, however, was not good in the first quarter. But as each drive wore on, Utah inched closer to midfield and had too much firepower for the outmanned Bears by the time the second and fourth quarters came to a close.
Not surprisingly then, the Utes scored all but seven of its points in those pivotal quarters.
Trevor Reilly and Nate Fakahafua each had one sack as well, punctuating an impressive evening of college football that Ute fans had looked forward to all season.
For Utah, this season is personal — though the team has been careful not to say anything.
Getting revenge on the Pac-12 teams that beat them last season will come, one game at a time.
And it all starts with the Utes’ vaunted defense.
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