I hate playing the Falcons. These games are never pretty. I'm serious. Go look back at the history between these two teams and find one win where the Utes didn't play one of their worst games of the season. Every year, without fail, Utah slugs it out with Air Force and somehow pulls a win out of their asses. Saturday night was no different.
I'm not going to preach about how season changing this victory is or how Utah showed their true selves by gutting it out in overtime. That would be easy. But I'm also not going to panic over how the offense struggled. Mostly because I knew the offense would struggle. The Falcon defense is good. Really good. Probably second to TCU for Utah's remaining opponents. So struggling like they did shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Even with all those issues, they still managed to win. If you take anything away from this game, it's that.
The grades after the jump...
Offense: C-minus - Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. I credit Air Force here, but that doesn't excuse all of the issues, either. Firstly, the turnovers. I touched on this in the game thread and Utah got damn lucky it didn't cost them. It was only two, but against a disciplined team like the Falcons, that's all it really takes. Secondly, the offensive line really struggled. Terrance Cain was pressured way too much and it forced him into taking the sack or taking off for essentially no gain. The line hasn't played this badly in a long time and I hope it's not indicative of future problems.
Defense: B-minus - I've got to give it to Utah's defense here, they kept the Falcon offense in check most of the game. Sure, Air Force rolled up the yards, but only managed one touchdown today. That lone seven came off a Utah fumble. Bottom line - Utah's defense did a lot of bending, but rarely broke. Oh and they stepped it up on 4th and 2 to win the game in overtime. Can't ask for a better defensive effort than that final play.
Special Teams: D - Along side the offense, the Utes were horrible here. A missed PAT and a fumbled return cemented this grade. They need to improve greatly or it's going to eventually cost them a game. Wait, a punt return for a score already gave them their lone loss of the season...never mind.
- Dave Schramm: C-minus - I really wasn't impressed with the play calling. I think the Utes tried to get a bit too cute and it burned them. Their offense worked the best (outside that 91-yard touchdown run by David Reed) when they pushed it at Air Force. Too many times, it seems, they allowed the play to slowly develop in the backfield and it ultimately resulted in hardly any gain - or a loss of a few yards.
- Kalani Sitake: B - Air Force is hard to game plan against and it was evident with the performance of Utah's defense. I don't envy Sitake and while his players gave up a good number of yards (254 on the ground), they never really let the Falcons find a rhythm. That was important, because beyond their one touchdown, Air Force didn't sniff the goal line again.
- Kyle Whittingham: B-minus - I'm sure he knows by now how difficult it is playing the Falcons. I've got to give it to him for not letting his team get too down when they struggled. But I think ultimately, with how close things were and how poorly they looked on offense, it's hard for me to justify anything higher than a b-minus.