Over the past few weeks, Utah's offense has played rather mediocre. Brett Ratliff has underperformed and because of that, the team has as well. Utah's struggles this season are directly connected to the offensive struggles and the lack of Utah's running game. The Utes have yet to find a solid running attack that can compliment the passing game. In last Thursday's loss against New Mexico, Utah finally stuck to the ground and had success, running all over the Lobos defensive line. Then Poston went down and Utah's running game evaporated on the spot. This is a concern because the Utes won't win many of their 4 remaining games if they don't find their running game.
Here's a look at Utah's running game through 8 games this season.
|Total Rushing Yards
|Yards Per Game
The Utes actually have been successful at running the ball, but a lot of that is the use of the option. The Utes rank 2nd in the conference in total rushing yards on the season (1,129), however Utah ranks 4th in the conference in yards per game and only 5th in the conference for rushing touchdowns. What does this mean? Well Utah has done a good job at running the ball this season, but in crucial points in each game, Utah has opted for the pass instead of the run. That can either be because of Ludwig's play calling, or Ratliff's poor decision making, but it's clear something needs to be changed.
Against the Lobos, Utah passed on 3rd and short a few times, rarely getting it. But what was more alarming is that the Utes decided to make deep passes on 3rd and short instead of relying on the running attack. But the fact the Utes have only 7 running touchdowns shows me this offense is not effective.
It's not that Utah should run the ball more, it's clear they're doing that, it's that the team isn't doing it where it matters most. If the Utes go away from the run of 3rd and short, that often sets up a quick 3 and out and often gives the ball right back to the opposing team. When the game was in doubt and Utah needing a score against New Mexico, Brett Ratliff stepped up and on 3rd and short passed the ball. But instead of even a short pass to the side, he bombed it out of bounds. If Ratliff continues doing this the rest of the season, it doesn't matter how many yards Utah runs, they're going to lose. Ratliff is not a good enough passer to connect with a receiver on a deep ball, even if it catches the defense off guard.
I look for Utah to run the ball more against UNLV and I think, like against New Mexico, it will improve their offensive production. If there was one positive in the Lobos game (and I hate finding positives in losses), the Utes ran the ball very well in the first half and it's not a coincidence that Utah dominated the entire first half.