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Brad Rock: A carbon copy Utah Utes football team — still no offense

SALT LAKE CITY — Another season is hitting its stride, and another Utah team is again slow out of the gate in conference play. The goal of winning the South Division championship remains reachable, but Saturday's 21-7 loss to Washington didn't help.

When life gives you lemons, don't make lemonade. Find different fruit.

This is the same team it was last season.

Washington beating Utah isn't a shocker. This falls into the "Conservative wins Utah election" department. Excepting a 2015 win in Seattle, the Utes have never defeated the Huskies.

Forget about USC. Never mind Stanford. The team Utah cannot put down is Washington. This makes the Huskies 11-1 all-time against the Utes, but more importantly 5-1 since Utah joined the Pac-12. Nobody has fared better.

At this point the Utes have to wonder what they can do.

Hopes were high they could win a division title this season for the first time. That's still not unreachable. But it's always something with them. Utah has a habit of losing key conference games right out of the gate. In 2011, the trouble started with a loss to USC. The next year it was Arizona State. The following year, Oregon State — a team that went 4-5 in the regular season — was the culprit. In 2014 the Utes opened conference play with a loss to Washington State, after starting the season 3-0.

Things improved in 2015, when Utah bolted to a 3-0 conference mark, and five wins in its first six. Back-to-back November losses cooked their chances. Another good conference start was in 2016 when they opened with a win over USC, only to lose a week later at Cal. Last season they opened with a win at Arizona but promptly lost to Stanford, USC, Arizona State and Oregon.

They seldom get far into the schedule before someone slaps them upside the helmet. Which begs the question: Is "competitive" as good as it gets? Not if they intend to own up to their goals. They're good enough to fill the stadium, having sold out 53 consecutive games. Kyle Whittingham has shown his teams to be competitive with everyone, but not better than many.

Utah is just 28-36 since joining the Pac-12.

Utah has won eight games all-time against Arizona State, five against USC, four against Stanford, nine against Oregon, five against UCLA, 29 against Colorado.

But just one against Washington — in 11 tries. Their only win is a 34-23 decision in 2015.

Just for the occasion on Saturday Utah wore all black — as did the fan base. Yes, blackout time again. Utah came in with an 8-2 record in such games. If it meant beating Washington, the Utes would wear polka dots and paisley.

As much as Washington's talent was a threat to the Utes, it was their own ham-handedness that nearly cost them the game at Northern Illinois. They allowed seven sacks, revealing a serious security breach.

Utah did itself one better by getting two players ejected for targeting on Saturday.

It took U-Dub 2½ minutes to take the lead. Utah opened the game with a three-and-out, while the Huskies went five-and-in.

On a night when wildfires were all around them, the Utes looked like they were hoping to get it done with smoke and mirrors. Their first crafty play — a reverse to Britain Covey — netted just four yards. A later one gained only one.

The Utes looked a lot like every Utah team: good but not great, dangerous but not dominant. Tyler Huntley threw a pick as the half ended. Despite being nearly doubled in the first half in yardage, they still trailed just 14-7 at the break.

That's the Utes' M.O.

Keep the score down and hope for some offense.

They got half the equation.

Meaningful downfield movement is still a problem for the Utes. The team that was ninth in scoring offense in the conference and eighth in total offense last year is back to its old habits. The offense coughed up a fumble to start the second half. Washington was shortly ahead 21-7.

An interception led to Utah having fourth-and-one at the Washington 2 in the second half. The play failed.

As much as talk this year has been about an improved offense, it hasn't happened. Utah has two offensive touchdowns in the last two weeks.

Until that changes, Utah will stay where it is.