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December 23, 2010

Boise downs Utes in Vegas

Boise State snapped what had been the nation's longest bowl win streak, which prior to Wednesday had run up to nine bowl wins dating back to 1999, where Utah defeated Fresno State 17-16.

Fittingly, the Utes' streak ends exactly where it started: at UNLV's Sam Boyd Stadium, and the Las Vegas Bowl. The loss is painful for the Utes and their proud program for myriad reasons. Perhaps the biggest irony is the loss comes on the last game of a senior class that will go down as the winningest in Utah football history.

The Utes shut Boise State out for the entire first quarter, something that hadn't been done since November 3, 2009 when UC Davis kept them out of the end zone for the game's opening quarter. That would be all the Utes would be able to boast, however as the team quickly lost control scoring 16 unanswered points in the second quarter.

Uncharacteristically, Utah caught several breaks and missed several opportunities. Utah defensive back Lamar Chapman forced a fumble that would be recovered by Neli A'asa at the Boise State 20 yard line. After failing to move the ball, Utah's Joe Phillips missed a 39 yard field goal.

The next Utah possession ended with a Terrance Cain fumble, recovered by Boise State's Chase Baker. On it went with both teams trading penalties and dropped passes, including a crucial would-be touchdown pass from Cain to Utah senior wide receiver Jereme Brooks on a 3 and 16 from the 43 yard line. The Utes finally got on the board with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter to go up 3-0, marking the last time the Utes held the lead in the game.

In what would prove to be a huge momentum change, Boise's Doug Martin broke an 84 yard touchdown run with 8:39 left in the 2nd quarter. Martin's scamper was pivotal as it marked the first time the Broncos led the game, making the score 7-3.

In post-game interviews, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham revealed that prior to punting the ball away and giving possession back to the Boise State, he had considered calling a fake punt.

"[That play] broke our back. I was contemplating a fake punt the play before that. It was fourth down, and we had a fake punt that we liked in that particular situation," explained Whittingham. "I thought our defense was playing well, and I figured if we didn't convert it, they'd get the ball at mid-field. In hindsight, I wish we would have dialed that up."

In hindsight, the Utes have a lot of regrets, questions, and should-haves that will loom large through the inevitable long off-season. The Utes lost three fumbles on the night and went a startling 2-13 on third-down conversions, and the number of Utah's dropped passes were too numerous to count. Utah was also penalized 10 times for 83 yards, including a holding call that negated a 30-yard touchdown pass to Jereme Brooks less than midway through the 3rd quarter.

Utah's senior center Zane Taylor, so rarely penalized throughout his career, discussed the mistake-ridden offensive game, and the penalty that negated the Cain-to-Brooks touchdown.

"I'm not going to take anything away from Boise State, but mostly what we did on offense was just hurting ourselves. That was the main thing going into this game was to not make mistakes and hurt ourselves," said Taylor. "We did that all game. The hard part is you play with questions of what-if. I know I am. I got a holding call on that touchdown pass, and it's going to haunt me the rest of my life."

Head man Kyle Whittingham echoed the sentiments in more low-key manner. "When you play a team the caliber of Boise State, you've got to be much better than we were tonight," Whittingham summarized. "That's the bottom line."

The bottom line, of course, was the final score of 26-3 and the 543 offensive yards Boise State was able to rack up on the Utes, in sharp contrast to Utah's 200 yard offensive output. The stark reality is that Utah is now starting from scratch and will not carry their bowl win streak into their new conference. That fact may be a fitting if unpleasant beginning to what was to be its bright new future and start as one of the two new members of the PAC-10 (soon to be PAC-12).

There were some positives to the game, however, as Utah's defense, which has had questions swirling around it all season long, held Boise State to its lowest point total of the season. Utah linebacker Chaz Walker had a big game defensively for the Utes; tallying a team-high 10 tackles, bringing his season total to 113. Walker also snagged his second interception of the season, and third of his career. In addition to forcing a fumble, Walker also returned a field goal blocked by teammate Brandon Burton, returning it 35 yards to mid-field.

"We're for sure going to take some of those positives on defense and work on some stuff on offense. We played a good special teams game," said Walker. "It's going to be somewhat of a boost after this loss being able to take some positives away. That's sometimes all you can do is build on what's positive and start with that."

Sophomore Reggie Dunn has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season, and did so again Wednesday night, returning a kick-off 40 yards to open the second half. As a future star on offense, Dunn put his Las Vegas Bowl experience into perspective.

"The bowl game experience was really positive for me. As far as the game, I just had to do what I had to do when I had the ball in my hands," said Dunn. "I love teammates, we had a hell of a year, and we didn't do all that we wanted, but we did a lot of good things. We can learn a lot from playing a team like Boise State, that's what it's going to be like every week next year, so this is good experience for us to learn where we need to be. I think it's a good way for us to measure where we are."

The Utes are now 12-4 all-time in bowl games, and Utah's streak will still go down in the record books as the second longest bowl-win streak in college football history, behind Florida State, which enjoyed 11 consecutive bowl wins dating from 1985-1996.


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