In anticipation of writing this piece, my debut article for UteZone, I received some advice: avoid attenuated analogies, tired cliches, and unnecessary hyperbole. In typical me fashion, I will ignore sound advice in pursuit of what truly matters, unadulterated entertainment.
So, let’s kick this off with that analogy, shall we? It was the beginning of the summer before 7th grade. Young love was in the air and I was attending a party at Chad’s house. Yes, his name truly was Chad, which is perfect. It was also held in his parent’s partially finished basement, which is also perfect. I had developed a crush on this cute girl who happened to attend the party that night. I decided that was going to be the night I made my move and got my very first kiss (Author’s note: the kiss in question was a VERY innocent quick peck of a kiss; after-all this was Draper, Utah and we were like 12 or 13). During a break in the action of the critically acclaimed Mission Impossible 2, I finally decided to make my move. My game plan certainly left a lot to be desired and my execution was shaky, but I was committed.
Fast forward roughly 21 years to yesterday, a lovely Saturday afternoon in the Chad’s basement of the Pac-12, Tucson. The 6-3 Utes traveled south with one goal, maintaining their position atop the Pac-12 South. Much like that magical night in Chad’s basement, the game plan seemed to be lacking. The defense looked downright confused for long stretches of time. Tavion Thomas was a scratch from the get-go, reportedly a precautionary move in anticipation of the coming heavyweight matchup with Oregon. Utah seemingly left their punt protection team at home as well but frankly, the Utes wouldn’t need to bring their “A game” to get out of Tucson with a win.
Cam Rising and Utah elected to receive the opening kick off and went on a 9-play drive that ended with a #Thiccboi7 TD run. For those of you keeping track at home that is now five straight games Utah has scored a touchdown on their opening drive. Things looked to be going well until Utah’s defense took the field. STOP!!! Re-read the previous two sentences again and convince me we aren’t in the upside-down. Truthfully though Utah’s defense looked fine on the opening drive, well until Arizona faced a 4th and 5 at midfield that ended in a 43-yard touchdown by Will Plummer on a QB keeper that looked far too easy.
Utah and Arizona both settled in on defense for a few drives before trading touchdowns. The Wildcats added a field goal to go up 17-14 with 84 seconds remaining the in half. Recall that the Wildcats were set to receive the second half kickoff. The Utes of old probably run a couple of safe interior run plays and head into the half to regroup. Not this quarterback and not these Utes. Cam Rising took the field with his ubiquitous smile and plenty of confidence. He methodically took his team down the field and Utah was anything but conservative. Eight passes and a mere 82 seconds later they found paydirt via a Rising to Kuithe touchdown with just two seconds left before the half. I’m not sure whether I was more impressed with Whittingham’s willingness to turn his sophomore QB loose in a close game or Rising’s execution and management of the situation. Regardless, Utah took the 21-17 lead into the half allowing Utah fans to breathe just a bit easier.
Since we’ve made it to the half, I think this is a good time for us to revisit Chad’s basement circa the summer of 2001. It smelled like pre-teen spirit and axe body spray. I had finally worked up the confidence and asked my crush to accompany me towards an area of the family room where we could have as much privacy as possible in a room chock-full of 13-year-olds. I began to feel a bit nervous, and my voice probably cracked a time or two. I am not sure if I doubted myself, but let’s just say my confidence wasn’t at an all-time high. I’ll go ahead and spare you the details and, more importantly, me the embarrassment. At the end of the night, I left Chad’s basement with what I had hoped for, even if it wasn’t quite the flawless performance I had imagined. I honestly don’t think I felt great about my performance, mostly I felt a sense of relief that it was over.
Back to Tucson we go. The Wildcats received the second half kick and promptly marched down the field. Utah’s defense bent but didn’t break (I knew I could squeeze a tired cliché in here somewhere) and only surrendered a field goal. The next four Utah possessions ended in scores. The only problem was one of those scores was an Arizona touchdown off yet another blocked Utah punt. For the Utes it was the third blocked punt on the season (recall one was called back due to two opposing players wearing the same number on the play). The blocked punt brought the Wildcats within two. Fortunately for Utah, the ensuing two-point conversion was unsuccessful. Utah got the ball back leading 31-29 with just over ten and a half minutes to play. No one on the Utah side was doubting per se, but much like the younger me in Chad’s basement, confidence wasn’t exactly at an all-time high.
In the words of the legendary John Pease, heavily favored Utah found themselves “in a knife fight in a dirty alley” against a team in Arizona that was coming off their first win seemingly since the Bush Administration (unnecessary hyperbole anyone?). But like he did at the end of the first half, Cam Rising perfectly adjusted his game to the situation and led the Utah offense on a 15 (ONE. FIVE.) play drive which took eight and a half minutes off the clock. Utah converted one third-down and one fourth-down in which Rising finally lined up under center for a QB sneak. Utah ultimately finished off the drive with an impressive run by TJ Pledger who powered his way into the endzone. That put Utah up by two possessions and effectively ended the game. It was the type of impressive drive and finish to a challenging game the likes of which prior Utah offenses haven’t been capable.
While struggling with Arizona wasn’t what most had anticipated, Utah got out with a win. This was the type of game that previous Utah teams have lost, and ultimately cost themselves a shot at the pac-12 title (I see you Colorado 2011 and Oregon 2016). Was it a flawless performance? No. Far from it. The collective team probably won’t feel much satisfaction with the win, only relief. But the Utes, just like my chubby pre-teen self, didn’t need a perfect game plan or flawless execution, they just needed to be good enough. What truly matters is that we both found a way to accomplish our respective goals and get out of Chad’s basement with a win.