I know I wasn't the only disappointed fan coming away from last year's Montana State game. The performance was pretty ho-hum and that certainly led to some concern maybe the Utes weren't as far ahead as we would have liked. In the end, I think that game gave us some indication there would be growing pains ... with or without Jordan Wynn.
So, when Utah opened Thursday's game with another ho-hum effort, I cringed and had a flashback to last year's game. But this was not last year's game - not by a mile.
The Utes, unlike last season, actually started out slow and then hit their stride toward the end of the second quarter. A year ago, it was almost the exact opposite ... Utah started okay enough and then floundered a bit in the final three and a half quarters. That game ended disappointingly and this game ended with more positives than negatives. I left the stadium pretty optimistic and maybe it's a false optimism, but for the time being, and until it's proven otherwise, I feel good about this year's Utes.
The grades after the jump...
Offense: B-plus - I felt the offense, once it finally got moving, looked pretty good. The play calling wasn't exactly inspired, but it didn't need to be in a game like this. Wynn, who was a huge question mark prior to the game, looked solid enough, even though he did throw an errant interception. John White IV was good, though I wouldn't say spectacular, and I was really impressed by the lack of penalties from the offensive line. This was a problem last year, especially when dealing with false starts, and, unless I'm mistaken, I don't think there was one ... though, I could be wrong.
Other than that, I'm diggin' the tight ends and I still feel Utah has some solid receivers that should do some impressive damage this season. DeVonte Christopher did have some dropped passes, but on the whole, their performance was okay.
The speed on the offense is there and I expect this team to look much smoother Friday against Utah State. They say the biggest improvement a team sees throughout the season is between week one and week two. If that's the case, I think we'll be all right.
Defense: A - The defense was phenomenal ... but is that a surprise? If Utah's offense is just good, they are going to be tough to stop solely because their defense is just that good. I was impressed with the defensive line especially, but again, not a surprise, considering they're supposed to be one of the best units in college football. Northern Colorado's offense, I don't believe, made it past mid-field and, for a bulk of the game, they actually held the Bears to negative rushing yards.
Yes, it's a bad FCS team and you don't want to read too much into it - but still, pitching a shutout and holding a team to 114 yards overall ... especially when you're up forty-points, is pretty good. To compare, Arizona State's defense gave up 237 yards to Northern Arizona and Utah's next opponent, Utah State, gave up almost 100 more yards to Southern Utah.
So, it was a solid all around performance for the defense. They kept Seth Lobato in check, who was an experienced threat, as he only finished 10 of 24 for 74 yards and, obviously, no touchdown. Again, you're seeing a solid output by the defense and, because of that, the Utes rank third nationally in defensive yards a game.
Special Teams: D - The biggest disappointment of Thursday's game without question. I hope Coleman Petersen can find his mojo because I guarantee you one of his kicks is going to decide a game this season ... maybe not as it happens, but the outcome will be decided because of it. He's got to step up, both with extra points and field goals.
- Brian Johnson: B-plus - The offense probably held back a bit, but I felt Johnson, for this being his first game as a coordinator, called a pretty good game. Now comes a bigger test against the Aggies.
- Kalani Sitake: A - What can you say about Sitake and the Utes' defense? It's a machine. I'll tell you, I'm much happier Hawaii took Norm Chow instead of Kalani Sitake.
- Kyle Whittingham: B-plus - You know, you wouldn't think coaching these games would be all that hard. Just show up, compete, win and then go home. But obviously some teams get caught with their pants down against lesser foes - just ask Pittsburgh who lost to Youngstown State Saturday. These can be risky games that undo a lot of goodwill if you don't win. Well, we did, and for that, having his team ready and not playing a sloppy game against a FCS team like Wisconsin did, he deserves a good grade. Even if it was easily earned.