This is not how Kyle Whittingham envisioned his night going, a week after his Utah Utes scored the upset of the Pac-12 season.
Just seven days after knocking off No. 5 Stanford, the coach did not anticipate having to hand the car keys over to a former walk-on quarterback with all of two career passes to his name.
He did not expect to have to put the game on the shoulders of a kicker who had never played an organized football game prior to this season. And he didn’t expect his players to forget to hit the alarm this morning in a 35-24 loss at Arizona.
“We were flat in the first half, and in this conference you can’t come out not ready to play,” Whittingham said. “We weren’t ready to play in the first half.”
Added wide receiver Sean Fitzgerald: “We obviously came out flat. It felt good beating Stanford last week, but that’s a long time ago in football time.”
By the time Whittingham needed to turn it over to backup quarterback Adam Schulz, the Utes were in scramble mode.
And scramble they did, rebounding from a 20-7 deficit to take the lead at 21-20 after a 55-yard touchdown pass from Schulz to Fitzgerald on a flea-flicker.
It was not as if the Utes hadn’t see it before — Schulz connected with wideout Dres Anderson on a 57-yard touchdown pass on his first play of the team’s Red-White spring scrimmage — but the team wasn’t able to truly open up the offense behind the untested quarterback.
“Adam came in and gave a valiant effort,” Whittingham said. “He did some good things, made a couple nice throws. He didn’t turn the ball over — we took care of the ball in the second half; that’s something that in the first half really put us in a hole.”
Starting QB Travis Wilson threw two first-half interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown by Marquis Flowers, before he was sidelined just before the half with an apparent hand injury.
Schulz came in and outperformed Wilson, who has multiple-interception games in all of Utah’s losses, including a six-interception game in a loss to UCLA.
While Wilson completed just 3 of 9 passes for 15 yards, Schulz was 12 of 23 for 142 yards and the long score.
“Coach says when somebody goes down, you’ve got to pick up the rifle,” Schulz said. “I just really tried to make plays. There are some positives, and I expect nothing less from this team than to pull together.”
If it was just the passing follies that doomed Utah, that would be one thing.
But even the old reliables went south for the Utes.
Kicker Andy Phillips, a former five-year member of the U.S. Ski team who had never played football before this year, snapped an 11-for-11 field goal streak with two missed kicks. Phillips missed attempts of 42 and 40 yards.
The second miss was a questionable call in and of itself for the Utes (4-3, 1-3).
Trailing by four with 3:49 left to play, Whittingham chose to try to narrow the score to one point, putting it on Phillips’ leg. Phillips’ delivered the kick wide left, however, and Arizona turned around and marched down the field, the drive capped off by a Ka’Deem Carey 44-yard touchdown run.
“Four minutes and something left, two timeouts, that’s an either-or call,” Whittingham said. “You can go for it and need a touchdown to win it, but our kicker has been lights out this year, and we figured that was an automatic.”
In the upside-down, topsy-turvy Pac-12 this year, though, nothing is an automatic.
Whittingham, whose team went from the outhouse to the penthouse to the outhouse in just one week, should know better than anyone.