There were lots of happy Utah fans in Las Vegas this weekend, not so much for fans of the Mountain West Conference, especially those who cheer for Colorado State and UNLV. Utah's football team took care of business in the Royal Purple Las Vegas bowl to the tune of a 45-10 route of CSU, while the Runnin' Utes basketball team had a more difficult time with the Runnin' Rebels, but also came away with a win, 59-46.
What did we learn from the reunion tour sweep of the Utes former conference?
Eight is Greater than 10:
No, this isn't the new math. As with all men, not all season records are created equal. Colorado State fans felt their 10-2 record deserved more national respect than they were getting, especially when a fifth place Pac-12 team with only an 8-4 record was ranked by the pollsters, as well as the inaugural College Football Playoff Committee. After Utah dominated in the Las Vegas Bowl, we learned definitively that 10 wins in the G5 is less than eight wins in the P5. Utah was CSU first Top 25 opponent this season, and it looked like it. Utah, on the other hand, faced four Top 25 teams in the Pac-12 South alone, as well as conference champion Oregon.
ESPN Has a Short Memory:
In their online recap of the bowl game, ESPN.com changed the order of the trick plays, seeming to indicate that CSU was the first to throw out the trickeration, which, of course, they weren't. Later, the announcer declares, "Utah wins 45-10, their biggest bowl win in program history." If she meant largest margin of victory in a bowl or most points scored in a bowl, fine. But at first blush, it sounds like ESPN is saying the Las Vegas Bowl is the biggest win in program history, which isn't even close to the truth. How soon they forget when you haven't made a bowl game in two years.
While the "lack of respect" card is usually played by the smaller market/conference school, it seems Utah was the team receiving little respect from their opponent. The 10-win Rams apparently came into the game a bit cocky and weren't prepared for what they encountered.
"I, never in a million years, saw that score happening," said Rams quarterback Garrett Grayson. "They came out and kind of punched us in the mouth, and I don't think we necessarily punched them back like we have done so many times."
The fact that both the coaching staff and the players for Colorado State were stunned by the outcome and Utah's talent tells quite a story. They "never in a million years" expected Utah to be the better team. CSU was just happy to be there and expected to walk into Sam Boyd Stadium and just walk all over the Power 5 Utes. Well, CSU, this ain't your father's Utah Utes.
"Proud of how our boys played today," said Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham, "and that really was a product of the preparation of the last three weeks. They did a great job the last three weeks preparing themselves the last three weeks. All they had to do was come out and doo what they did the last three weeks and execute."
The bottom line is that Utah was prepared. Utah practiced with respect for their opponent and a solid game plan. Colorado State wasn't prepared when they say they were surprised by Utah's speed and physical play. That should have been evident from the game film showing them beating nationally ranked USC and UCLA. When Utah was on the outside looking in, Whittingham always preached "respect but don't fear," a lesson the Rams should learn going forward. Until you go undefeated and play in a New Year's Day bowl, you haven't arrived.
"It just put us in a position where we still have to work hard," running back Devontae Booker said about the bowl win. "We don't focus on that we won big, but that we have to work hard in the offseason and get to our main goal of playing in the Rose Bowl."
Dave Christensen is Tricky:
On Utah's first offensive play, Utes offense coordinator Dave Christensen threw in some trickeration, dialing up a play where quarterback Travis Wilson handed off to running back Devontae Booker who swept left and flipped the ball to a waiting backup quarterback Jason Thompson (the transfer from Wyoming). Thompson then threw the ball across the field in a lateral back to Wilson, who then threw 36 yards down field to wide receiver Kaelin Clay. Christensen has been criticized for being too conservative in his play calling. In the first play of the Las Vegas Bowl, conservativism went out the window.
"We had decided to open up with [that play] on Wednesday or Thursday of this week," Whittingham said. "It was well executed. Ball was a little under thrown or it would have been a touchdown, but we are not going to complain as it was a big chunk of yards."
The 7-foot Austrian Jakob Poeltl was an unknown at the beginning of the year. That is no longer the case. Poeltl has been a focus for opposing defenses since the BYU game, and the freshman's production has been down each game since. Certainly, Poeltl's production against UNLV was hampered by foul trouble, but he was never able to get into rhythm when he was on the floor. He had a run near the end of the game but needs to establish his presence in the paint from the opening tip. When Poeltl receives the ball in position to catch and shoot, he's nigh unstoppable, when he needs to dribble or make post moves, he's taking a bit too much time, and defenses are collapsing on him and stealing the ball.
It's a progression. Poeltl is a freshman, and an international freshman at that. He's learning and gaining experience in the American game, and fans need to recognize there is a learning curve for the Austrian. He needs to gain more weight and get much stronger, but he already has the hands and footwork necessary to be a solid post player at the next level. For the immediate future, Poeltl is drawing a great deal of attention, and the Utes need to feed the big man and cut to space for open shots. With the amount of court time Poeltl and the rest of his freshman compadres are getting, the future is pretty bright for the Utes for years to come.