It was a near flawless effort by the Utes Saturday, one that would make a parent giddy with pride at their high marks (if only I could say the same about my report cards in high school).
So like any happy parent would do, I'm pimping the report card around town. It's hanging on the fridge for all the guests to see. Right next to the shopping list and a photo of the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Can it get any better than this?
Utah needed a huge performance from its offense and boy did they get it. Grady threw for 246 yards on 17 of 30 passing and threw zero interceptions in only his second start for the Utes. But while Grady's performance was welcoming, he was definitely aided by a successful running attack, something that had eluded Utah for the first two weeks.
Darrell Mack ran for 107 yards on 19 carries, while as a team the Utes rushed for a total of 122 yards on the night. That was more than their first two games combined, where Utah only ran for 91 yards.
The offensive success relieved the defense of pressure, which provided them a great opportunity to step up and stop the Bruins' running attack.
I had hope for Utah's defense, but knew the offense needed to step up and keep them off the field as much as possible. Against a team like UCLA, the fresher you are, the easier it is to avoid depth issues. Well, Utah's offense stepped up and what do you know, the Utes' defense shined. Not only did they dominate Ben Olson (5 sacks, countless hurries and 3 interceptions) , they stopped Kahlil Bell and held him to a season low 59 yards on the ground.
The defensive player of the game has to be Robert Johnson, who played out of his mind. Johnson intercepted Olson twice and forced a critical fumble on what looked like a sure score for the Bruins. After that play, UCLA's hopes of making a comeback were dashed and the Utes rolled to victory.
Special Teams: B+
Louie Sakoda was 3-for-3 on field goals and made every extra point. Plus he killed the Bruins by pinning them deep in their own territory a few times Saturday. But the biggest surprise was Utah's ability to actually get decent returns on punts and kickoffs. That's been an issue for the Utes since Urban Meyer -- special teams God -- left for the Florida Gators. I don't know if this is a trend, but hopefully Utah's kick return continues to progress.
The perfect gameplan for Coach Whittingham and his offensive and defensive assistants. I don't think I could have asked for a better performance from this team. The game reminded me so much of 2004 and the coaches deserve all the credit for that. Utah exploited every weakness in the Bruins defense and every weakness in their offense. They pressured Olson, forced him to the air and created chaos in the secondary. On offense, they mixed things up, through in a freshman quarterback and worked what many thought would be a tough UCLA defense.
Now comes the hard part for Utah, building a gameplan for a team they're actually favored to beat. It's easy getting up for the 11th ranked team in your house, feeding off your fans, but UNLV - that's an entirely different story. The Rebels are not a good team and Utah should roll, but if they overlook them, it could turn into a tight game and then the Utes might start second guessing themselves. And if this UCLA game taught us anything, it's that if you start second guessing yourself, you're not going to perform well enough to win on the road, no matter who you're facing.