This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
There were no helmets spinning 360 degrees, no green projectile vomiting through facemasks, no bodies uncontrollably flopping on the turf, writhing in cleats and pads, no demons roaming freely. The Devils, after all, are Arizona's other team. There had only been fiendish defeats. So many fiendish defeats, always vexing Utah. So, the Utes had some football exorcising to perform late Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Heaven knows, they needed it. They needed somebody, please, anybody, to take the curse off.
That taking took its sweet-and-sometimes-sour time coming on this night, in the strangest of games, but, at last, the curse is gone, fully expelled, thanks to a 36-23 Utah victory over Arizona's Wildcats. It had less to do with incantations and holy water, and more to do with the Utes hanging on for dear life and, then grabbing what was theirs.
Four straight years, Arizona had beaten Utah. Rich Rodriguez was the only Pac-12 coach Kyle Whittingham hadn't beaten. The normally solid Ute defense over that span had for whatever reasons gotten lost in stopping the Wildcats' offense. Scores stacked up in losses had reached a total of 148-88, two losses at home, two in Tucson. The most lopsided of the defeats came at Rice-Eccles two seasons back, by better than four touchdowns.
Whittingham finally found his elixir this time around but it didn't take effect through most of a half. The third and fourth quarters saved their souls and righted their redemption, putting the Utes' world back on its proper axis.
The slow transition went like this: On the Wildcats' first play from scrimmage, they hit a 75-yard touchdown, with quarterback Brandon Dawkins finding an all-by-myself Shun Brown for the score. Arizona's second TD came halfway through the second quarter on a Dawkins run, as it went up on the Utes, 14-3.
From jump, everyone expected the Utes to pound the ball at Arizona, seeing that the Wildcat secondary seemed to be the stronger part of a weak defense. So, naturally, Utah came out throwing. Eight minutes into the first quarter, Troy Williams already had thrown nine passes, completing six. At the end of that initial quarter, after executing 20 plays, Utah had 90 offensive yards, a net zero gained on the ground.
At another point, late in the first half, Utah had more false-start penalties eight than rushing yards six. At that same juncture, the Utes had accumulated 10 penalties to Arizona's none. A safety and a touchdown drive closed the margin to 14-12 before the break. Then, Williams connected with Cory Butler-Byrd on a long pass play, setting up the quarterback's own touchdown run, giving the Utes' their first lead, 19-14. Later in the third quarter, two interceptions by Utah set up an Armand Shyne 26-yard touchdown run and an Andy Phillips field goal, making it 29-14. An Arizona field goal, a Williams TD run, a deep Arizona pass finished the scoring.
Ultimately, Williams put up 29 passes for 245 yards and one touchdown, running for another 73 yards and two scores. And Shyne, the Utes' leading rusher, gained 101 yards and scored once before injury sidelined him.
On the whole, the Ute run defense reacted fairly well to Rodriguez's attack, compromised though it was by injuries. But Utah, battling its own injuries, especially along the defensive front, fought rather admirably. The back end struggled through the initial half, yielding 194 yards to the pass. But the Utes found steadiness down the stretch, on both sides of the ball, overcoming those early deficiencies.
At game's end, the Utes separated themselves from most of their troubles. They weathered their mistakes in the first half and shifted into gear in the second. The display was, at times, sloppy. It was, at times, undisciplined. It was, at times, weird. It lacked comeliness.
But, then, exorcisms are rarely routine and never pretty. The moans and groans periodically coming from the crowd underscored the fact.
Still, simply beating Arizona on this occasion was enough. The longer the thing went on, the more attractive it got. The demons were stomped, spirits were cleansed, losing was put in the past. The Utes would take ridding themselves of a curse any which way they could.
And so, they did.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on the Zone Sports Network, 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson