We knew this game could get ugly and that is exactly what happened. In fact, it got beyond ugly and the Utes handed Utah State their worst loss in the 107 game history of this rivalry. It also gave Utah their first 3-0 start in four years and provided them a chance to move up in the rankings before a tough showdown with Air Force next Saturday.
But it wasn't perfect and that's where we'll start.
Special teams were terrible. In fact, this is the worst I've seen from a Utah team in a very, very long time. After the defense held USU and forced them to punt on the first possession of the game, John Peel fumbled the return and the ensuing Aggie drive gave them an early 7-0 lead. Not good. But the fact it happened more than once has to be a concern. In fact, digest this from the play-by-play.
1st-10, Utah34 13:31 J. Peel fumbled. G. Odong recovered fumble and returned for 10 yards
4th-20, UTSt2 6:30 P. Caldwell punt. J. Peel returned punt for no gain. J. Peel fumbled. J. Peel recovered fumble
4th-16, UTSt38 4:30 P. Caldwell punt. J. Brooks returned punt for 2 yards. J. Brooks fumbled. J. Brooks recovered fumble
4th-9, UTSt21 2:55 P. Caldwell punt. L. Chapman returned punt for no gain. L. Chapman fumbled. G. Odong recovered fumble
I can understand one fumbled return, but four, in the same game? Especially when Peel accounted for 50% of those fumbles? Terrible. Against a better team, that could be the difference in not only winning, but losing in a blowout. I will say that it appeared Utah got it under control, as only Chapman's fumble came in the second half. The rest were in the first and something this team needs to work on over and over and over again because this is the biggest weakness this team has heading into Air Force. The Falcons are a disciplined program and probably the best team Utah will face at this point in the season, if they fumble four returns, they will not only lose, they will be embarrassed in Colorado Springs.
This can be corrected and will need to be corrected. The Utes had a great special teams performance a week prior against UNLV and I hope they get back to that against Air Force, because if they can, it will be very tough for the Falcons to win.
Outside of special teams, there wasn't much to complain about. The offense didn't look alive the entire game, but that is to be expected, since they are playing Utah State. However, they also didn't come out slow and they definitely played the entire four quarters. And even though Brian Johnson wasn't perfect, he still managed to go 22-of-31 for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Pretty solid numbers, even if it's against the Aggies.
Of course, the best performance on offense was Matt Asiata. While he didn't dominate in terms of yards, only managing 56, he did score three touchdowns and looked like a beast for most of the game. Asiata has proven to be the top running back on this team and that's tough for me to say, since I really like Mack. But you've got to go with your best and Asiata gets it done.
Outside of the offense, Utah's defense also performed really well and could have blanked the Aggies had it not been for Utah's own mistakes. Holding Utah State to ten points isn't a remarkable feat, but the way they did it was pretty impressive.
The Aggies only had eight first downs, were two of twelve on third down conversions and only managed 116 total yards, or about what Brian Johnson had at the half. They also only produced 27 yards on the ground, proving they may just be the most anemic offense Utah sees this season and yes that includes Weber State.
A win is always nice and when you put up 58 on the opponent, you can't find much to complain about. But this team played far from perfect and will need to step it up next week against Air Force, because that game is going to be tough. However, for now, it was a good win and also helped Utah in the polls. Unlike last week, where Utah was tied with UNLV at the half, the Utes came out and rolled the Aggies for nearly the entire game, leading 30-7 at the half and 44-10 at the start of the fourth. So when all those media members looked at the box score prior to updating their top 25 ballots, they saw Utah demolish a team they should have from start to finish. Which explains why Utah moved up two spots and a team like East Carolina, who barely defeated Tulane, dropped a spot.
What I have seen from this team the past three weeks is slight improvement every game. That's a good thing and I expect that to continue Saturday. Air Force won't be easy and very well could end up being a loss, but if Utah plays like its capable of playing, they should win. Of course, that doesn't mean they will and as we saw last year, these Falcons are capable of beating the Utes. Now they just have to replay that game over and over again in their heads and feed off the disappointment it created, hopefully giving them enough incentive to not make the type of mistakes they made against Utah State. If they do that, Utah will be 4-0 and in good position for that great season.