Saturday's win over BYU was the most enjoyable and complete performance since the 2009 Sugar Bowl and signals that maybe the Utes are finally putting together the pieces for a solid and successful first season in the Pac-12.
Prior to the game, though, that was unclear. We didn't really know how good Utah was and, I guess in some ways, we still don't. Certainly the Utes aren't 44 points better than the Cougars. But they are better. That shouldn't be up for debate. An equal does not lose on its home field the way BYU did Saturday.
While Utah might not have been six or seven scores better than the Cougars, I do believe if they were to line up ten more times, regardless of location, the Utes win every single time and I doubt any game is really all that close.
That's huge because I think it shows just how improved this team is over last year's squad. Last year, Utah would have been rolled by SC and I'm not sure they would be capable of beating this year's BYU team. If they did, I'm thinking it would be by a similar margin to last year's game - maybe even coming down to the final play.
That wasn't the case Saturday. In fact, outside the first half, this game was never really in doubt. Once Utah went up 21-10 at the start of the third, I felt the game was pretty much in their control, even if this was a rivalry game and history had taught us that no lead is really safe.
But this game felt different. This wasn't the 2006 Utes who, with a lot of fight and determination, pushed ahead of the Cougars early in the third quarter of that rivalry game. We knew, at that point, BYU was the better team. Utah was kind of living on borrowed time with their lead and what do you know, the Cougars clawed their way back into it and eventually won the game on the final play.
Like 2008, though, once the floodgates opened, you just felt there would be no comeback for BYU. They just weren't good enough, at least compared to the Utes, to make this a game.
After three consecutive scores, which resulted in a 24-10 lead, Utah broke BYU's will and the rest is pretty much history.
The grades after the jump...
Offense: A-minus - This was certainly the best offensive performance of the season. Sure, they were helped by seven Cougar turnovers, but that doesn't tell the whole story. This game was more than just BYU coughing up the ball at every chance they got.
Jordan Wynn really had a solid game. Interception aside, he stepped up and delivered some big time throws. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who read my grades for the SC game, as I felt he really showed some strong leadership ability and that continued in this game.
With Utah trailing 10-7, Wynn delivered a scoring drive at the end of the second quarter that really changed the dynamics of the game. Up to that point, the offense had shown some progress at moving the ball, but key drives ended without points. Two were the fault of turnovers (DeVonte Christopher fumbling the ball after gaining the first down and Wynn throwing his lone pick), the other, which really could have altered the trajectory of the game, came when the refs failed to call a helmet-to-helmet when Christopher caught, and then dropped, a Wynn pass in the end zone.
Had the call been made, Utah is looking at a first and goal and worst case scenario, they have a better look at the field goal than they eventually got (a Coleman Petersen miss).
What path does this game take if Utah leads 14-0 at that point?
Wynn also stepped up at the start of the second half and once again took Utah down field for another scoring drive, this time finding Dres Anderson (he's fast) on a key third down for the touchdown.
Finally, leading 21-10, Wynn appeared to have another touchdown pass on the Utes' second drive of the second half, unfortunately, Reggie Dunn tripped over himself and fell down before he could catch up to the pass. It wasn't a perfectly thrown ball, but had Dunn not fallen over, the extra burst at the end of his run would have almost guaranteed him of the score. Instead, the Utes settled for a field goal and extended their lead to fourteen instead of eighteen.
All in all, though, it was a very good performance. Wynn's throwing is still not pretty, but if he's connecting at the rate he did Saturday, I don't think it needs to be. John White IV also had a great game, although, much of that came in the second half with BYU already demoralized. Still, this is the second straight week White left everything on the football field.
I was also extremely impressed with the offensive line. They were more than questionable against the Trojans and in this game, held up about as well as I've ever seen from them and that was after losing Tony Bergstrom early in the game.
As Wynn put it, he had so much time in the pocket, he could throw from a rocking chair.
And to think, the Cougar defensive line was supposed to be their strength.
Defense: A - Seven turnovers. The end.
Utah's defense actually got off to a sloppy start. They allowed BYU to work the ball down field a few times early in the game, two of which resulted in points and really were fortunate when they forced a fumble in the Cougars' red zone. But the defense adjusted and after the Cougars' final score, a Jake Heaps to Ross Apo touchdown pass, the offense crumbled and could never get anywhere near scoring position again.
I think the defense deserves a great deal of credit for that. For starters, they completely took out BYU's running game. The Cougars could not get anything going on the ground and it put the entire game in Heaps' hands. Now whether Heaps was mentally prepared for it is debatable, but on key drives, after intercepting Wynn and their first drive of the second half, they got no points.
It's important to point out that at that point, after falling behind 24-10, Utah was only +1 in turnover margin. That's not a staggering number and the Cougars still theoretically hadn't shot themselves in the foot. If anything, the way they were able to respond after three first quarter turnovers to take the lead in the second quarter, shows that his game was not lost by turnovers alone.
They lost it because they couldn't stop Utah's offense during key points of this game and couldn't answer those scores when they needed to.
It only started going down hill, in terms of turnovers, after the Utes went up 24-10 and on the ensuing kickoff when BYU muffed the return.
Before that, though, every self-inflicting turnover had occurred early in the game. Unfortunately for them, Utah's defense stepped up and stopped Heaps and the BYU offense on every drive between their lone touchdown and the muffed kickoff return in the third quarter.
BYU had three offensive series in that span and failed to get a first down on every single one of them.
The defense deserves a lot of the credit for that. Had BYU come out and answered Utah's touchdown at the start of the second half, this game probably plays out a bit differently.
- Norm Chow: A - I thought Chow called a fantastic game. He made adjustments when BYU keyed in on Utah's receivers, specifically Christopher, which allowed for a great pass play to Jake Murphy, a tight end, that put the Utes up 14-10 before the half. I also liked how he set up the run by using Wynn as a passing threat. It was obvious the Cougars didn't trust Wynn enough to pick apart their secondary, yet he kind of did just that and over time, it allowed for a more consistent ground game. This is why Utah fans were so thrilled to have Chow as their OC because he really worked Roscoe's defense.
- Kalani Sitake: A - The defense came to play. No ifs ands or buts about it. This is a stingy, impressive defense that might just be the best in the league. In two games now, they've forced ten turnovers, so I think it's safe to say that while the seven Saturday were an anomaly, this team does have the ability to create enough turnovers to alter a game dramatically. That's a far cry from last year's team, which consistently sat at the bottom of the nation in turnover margin. Now they're second.
- Kyle Whittingham: A - He had the team fired up for this one and they played a complete game. Whittingham generally brings it for rivalry games, so I'm not surprised. But I don't even think Whitt expected 54-10 - even though he did make it a point of emphasis that not all rivalry games had to be close. I guess Utah got the message.