All right. Wow. Time to put the craziness behind us and move on to a very important conference game ... the first of the season.
Last week, I mentioned how important I felt the BYU game was and I stand by this. I think the win has given Utah some new hope when they sorely needed it. Much of that doesn't matter, though, if they go down to Tempe and lose to the Arizona St. Sun Devils. So, while beating BYU has lit a spark, it needs to lead to more - something it didn't do last year.
Look, let's get the delusions of a Pac-12 South title out of the way right now ... this team has too many flaws for any fan to say we're a contender. So, the most critical thing about this season is building a foundation to something positive. It starts by cobbling together a couple wins here and there and then, maybe a few weeks down the road, you assess where you're at. But right now, Utah is not a Pac-12 contender. They're not a Pac-12 South contender. This is a team that still has to figure things out before we can call 'em that.
But they're also not doomed to disaster ... at least right now. With that win over BYU, and a 2-1 record, the Utes are in a good position to get something going here. Arizona State is a tough opponent, no doubt, but this is a winnable game, especially with this defense.
You see, what we got from the BYU game was a semi-blueprint on how to win in the Jon Hays era - no turnovers, just enough on offense and a furiously good defense that does a lot of the leg work. This is going to be another year where the team leans a bit more on its defense than we would like, but it's also an offense that looks a bit more up to the task than last year's. Hays, while not flawless, managed the game brilliantly, at least all things considered, Saturday and was a charge a week earlier against the Aggies. I don't know if that'll continue, but the fact he did that with Utah missing their starting quarterback and hardly getting any traction on the ground, is damn impressive.
Last week, the concerns surrounded the line and while they still exist, I do believe there was improvement and this is a position that could rapidly get better with more experience as the season progresses. If that happens, and John White IV can get back to his old self, then this team has the potential to be better than last year's and that's saying something after this kind of start.
Unfortunately, as the line kinda sorta shored itself up last week, the special teams once again were a big issue. They nearly cost the Utes the game. We are seeing progress in some areas - Coleman Petersen looks like he's maybe regaining some of his confidence, but regressing on blocking during punts. There is no excuse for what happened late in the game to unfold like it did. It was a disastrous play that led to points and allowed BYU back into the game. It can't happen on the road like two weeks ago or Utah's toast.
So, I hope this entire week is spent figuring out how to properly punt because the punting game was hit & miss all Saturday night. It's scary to think that in two games we've had some massive miscues on punts.
With White returning, supposedly, and who knows if he and the coaches are telling the truth, I expect a far better ground game, which should open things up a bit. They'll need it, because I still think this team is at its weakest when the opposing defense forces Hays to beat 'em through the air.
Now, what should we make of the Sun Devils? I really don't know. They've looked pretty good the last three weeks, but of course, their lone really tough game was on the road against an erratic Missouri squad who was missing their starting quarterback ... and that was a loss. Still, they dominated the Illini and gave the Tigers a run for their money. The fact they're at home should bolster their chances, especially when I anticipate that it'll still be pretty hot, even factoring in the game's late start.
But Utah knows what they're dealing with. Todd Graham, the Sun Devils' new head coach, was at Pittsburgh last year during the Utes' big victory on the road. So, I'm sure they're not going to be as surprised against this offense as you might expect playing a team with a new coaching staff. Conversely, though, Graham is off to a far better start in Tempe than he saw at Pittsburgh, suggesting that maybe last year he didn't have the necessary weapons to get the job done. If that's the case, this could be a very challenging game and the fact Utah is a seven-point underdog right now starts making sense.
Bottom line, I really don't have a feel for this game. I wouldn't be surprised if the Utes used their newfound success to win on the road and set up for a pretty big home game against USC. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if they wilted in the heat and struggled much like they did up in Logan ... or worse, against Cal last year on the road.
Either way, while I don't think this game is a must-win now that Utah has defeated the Cougars, victory certainly would change the dynamics of the season and show that maybe, possibly, hopefully, they can get some things done. If they lose, well, we'll chalk it up to a tough environment against a good team. I think I like the first option best, though.
So, let's go start a win streak.