Utah’s bowl superiority continues in Foster Farms Bowl win over Indiana, but the style points do not

December 29, 2016

NCAA

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By Morris Phillips

SANTA CLARA–When you’ve seen it as many times as Coach Kyle Whittingham, you know what it looks like.  And this wasn’t what Utah Utes football looks like this time of year.

First, All-American punter Mitch Wishnowsky dropped a snap, recovering just in time to get off a below average punt.  Then, the fumbles cropped up. The Utes would go on to fumble four times, and lose three of them, both figures establishing new Foster Farms Bowl records for slippery ballhandling. Quarterback Troy Williams was uncharacteristically off his game, and the penalties were piling up. The Utes were on their way to committing nine infractions, which would tie a Foster Farms Bowl record.

Surely, the coach with the highest winning percentage in the history of postseason bowl games maintained patience, but it was running out fast.

“We have a lot of weapons and we just weren’t executing in the first half,” Whittingham said. “I was frustrated because there were plays there to be made and it was just frustrating.”

On the game’s opening kickoff,  Utah returner Kyle Fulks fumbled, and Indiana capitalized, scoring the game’s first touchdown three plays later. Backup running back Zack Moss coughed it up in the fourth quarter, and that allowed Indiana to regain the lead, 24-23.  When Joe Williams fumbled minutes later, the Hoosiers were gifted an opportunity to put it away with 10 minutes remaining.

But each time, Willingham and the Utes responded. After Williams’ fumble, the coach turned to his star back, and asked for more.

“Joe was so sick last night he couldn’t come to any meetings so we weren’t sure we were going to have him,” Whittingham said. “He was feeling a little bit better this morning.  He wasn’t at full capacity stamina wise, but he was terrific tonight.”

In his final college game, Williams would go on to rush for 222 yards, including 64 of those on Utah’s final drive, setting up Andy Phillips’ fourth field goal, the game-winner with 1:24 remaining.

For Williams, this was the ultimate conclusion. After quitting the sport abruptly two games into the season, citing burnout, the senior returned when injuries claimed two other Utah running backs.  On the eve of his final game, Williams’ illness threatened his desired conclusion to the season, but he found inspiration from his closest friend, his new wife of two weeks, Jasmine Jones.

“I was with my wife, and she told me this is your last ride. I just had to go out there like Jordan did in ’97 with the flu game,” Williams said.

As amazing as Williams’ big finish? That the Utah senior and his newlywed wife — no amateur historians–were only three years old when Jordan pulled off his feat.

Several times Williams briefly pulled himself from the game, only to regroup and return.  The Utes followed Williams’ lead, breaking a 17-all tie late in the third with a pair of Phillips’ field goals, and then holding on from there when Indiana attempted a cardiac comeback. Coach Whittingham, who welcomed Joe Williams back unconditionally, basked in the wisdom of his decision.

“He showed a lot of toughness,” Whittingham said.  “I couldn’t be more proud of Joe to end his career as a Ute on this note.”

Whittingham improved to 10-1 in bowl games, his only loss to Boise State in 2010, when his Utes were throttled by the Broncos in the Las Vegas Bowl.

“We’re carrying the mantle for hundreds of football players who have come through here and raised the bar to where it’s at,” Whittingham said.

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