The No. 18 Utah football team did not expect to struggle the way it did offensively heading into its matchup with the Oregon Ducks in Autzen Stadium, but that’s exactly what happened. The Utes saw their 16-game winning streak, the longest current streak in the nation, come to an end Saturday as Oregon came away with a 31-24 victory.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said that despite the streak and national attention, the Utes are still learning and growing as a team just like any other collegiate program.
“We’re going through some growing pains right now as a team. We’re still figuring out who we are in a lot of ways,” Whittingham said. “I’ll tell you one thing: I’m as proud as could be of this football team for hanging in there and finding a way to have a chance to win at the end. (Oregon) made the play. We didn’t.”
Through the first two quarters, Utah punted nine times — five consecutively — while giving up two interceptions and turning the ball over once on downs. Those, along with a Walter Thurmond III 78-yard punt return for a touchdown, led to a 21-7 Utah deficit heading into halftime.
“Credit Oregon. Oregon played well. They ran the football well on offense and did a good job on defense,” Whittingham said.
Utah quarterback Terrance Cain — the 2008 NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year — had a shaky performance at times, finishing the game 20-of-41 for 178 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, while rushing 16 times for 68 yards and another score.
“We fought our butts off. We played a great team, we just didn’t come out with a win,” Cain said.
The second of Cain’s interceptions was thrown with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, which ultimately sealed the game for the Ducks.
“I wanted to get the ball to David Reed, I liked the one-on-one matchup and the defense just made a great play,” Cain said.
“I’ll have to evaluate the film,” Whittingham said of his quarterback. “He threw a couple interceptions, but I don’t want to make any statements until I see the film and see why he made the decisions he made.”
Defensively, free safety Robert Johnson had a standout performance for the Utes, recording five tackles while also picking up a Jeremiah Masoli fumble and returning it 28 yards for the score. He also intercepted a Masoli pass in the end zone to keep the Ducks from scoring in a goal line situation — the eighth of his career.
“Somebody else stripped the ball and I just came up, picked it up and did what I was supposed to be doing with it and that’s try to score a touchdown,” Johnson said. “It worked out well for me, but it didn’t work out good enough for the whole team.”
Johnson, a three-year starter and pre-season all-conference selection, has been a major contributor to Utah’s winning streak during the past two seasons.
“I mean, it’s weird and it hurts,” Johnson said. “But like coach just told us, we got to come back next week and play Utah football instead of letting this loss take the best of us right now.”
“It’s been almost two calendar years since we’ve been in this situation,” Whittingham finished. “Twenty-two months or whatever the time frame is. You know we all wish this could’ve gone on for infinity, but that wasn’t the case.”