Okay, so I know you're thinking it's already mid-week and the Pitt game happened Thursday, so why the hell are we still talking about it? Well good point. Of course, this is something I do for most every game and since the Utes beat the Panthers on Thursday, there was a bit more time between the game and when I generally do the report card.
So deal with it.
Anyway, this game wasn't pretty. I don't want to say ugly because I think, for a fan, it was very exciting - but it was certainly sloppy.
Utah didn't dominate like maybe we had hoped (but really didn't expect them to do anyway), but they did get the job done. That's all that matters in the end, right?
The grades after the jump...
Offense: B - The offense played pretty well. Jordan Wynn wasn't perfect, but his numbers were really good for a quarterback making only his sixth start. I also liked the play calling and though the Utes weren't as fluid in the second half as they were the first (Wynn's injury most certainly played a role here), they made the big plays on the offensive end to get the job done.
Along with Wynn, I was impressed with both Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide III. Neither had eye-popping numbers, but their totals together were huge in the game and if they can continue that type of output, which you can only believe will improve against lesser teams, they'll be far better than just serviceable.
Beyond those three, I like what I saw from DeVonte Christopher. Though he's only a sophomore, he very well could be Utah's best receiver this season and that's saying a lot, because Jereme Brooks is still pretty damn good.
Christopher recorded his first touchdown in the fourth quarter and it couldn't have been a bigger one. Though the Utes eventually coughed up the lead, that play was arguably the most important of regulation.
Defense: A-minus - The defense was probably the most surprising aspect of Utah's win over the Panthers. Everything about the defense exceeded expectations. The fact they kept Dion Lewis to a record low 75-yards really only touches on how good of a performance they produced.
While I was extremely impressed with the defensive line and their ability to stuff the run, I think I was more impressed with the secondary. Specifically how the Utes straight up took Jon Baldwin out of the game. He was, along with Lewis, a potential All-American this season and with how inexperienced Utah's secondary looked heading into this game, the fact he only had a couple big plays and did minimal damage was huge for the Utes.
Sure, the defense struggled at the end of the game and allowed Pittsburgh to score a big touchdown to pull within three late. However, I think they did a good job redeeming themselves both on the final drive of the game and especially in overtime.
It was that overtime play, namely from Brian Blechen, that won the game for Utah and left us celebrating a huge win to start the season. His pick, especially as a freshman, will be regarded as one of the best plays of the season (hell, maybe the best).
Special Teams: C - Again special teams nearly cost the Utes. Each year we keep telling ourselves they need to improve and that they will improve and they rarely do. Utah is lucky their special teams play didn't cost them this game. It surely put what should have been a blowout in jeopardy. They're just lucky the defense and offense bailed out the special teams. Hopefully this does improve because if the Utes want to run the table, blocked punts, fumbled punt returns and woefully short punts are going to end up costing them a game or two against good opponents.
- Aaron Roderick: B - As I mentioned, I liked the play calling. The no-huddle was effective (until Shaky Smithson fumbled) and prior to Wynn's injury (and even after, to an extent), the offense really moved the ball well. I do wonder if maybe he should have gone a bit more conservative in the fourth when the Utes had the lead. Of course, Ludwig did that a lot and it often burned the team in the end. So, maybe it was the right move.
- Kalani Sitake: A - No complains about the defense. They were impressive. Sitake seems to have transitioned well into his role as Utah's defensive coordinator and I would not be surprised if in a year or two, his name is being batted around for the head gig at a smaller non-BCS school.
- Kyle Whittingham: B-plus - The team was penalized more than they should have been, but he had 'em ready - which isn't always the case in season openers. As for the two timeouts at the end of the game? Well, let's not go there.