The Fresno State matchup with the Utes on Saturday afternoon may have taken many by surprise. Fresno is coming off of an 11 win season, and was in the race for a BCS birth most of the 2013 season. Well, this Fresno team is nowhere near the same without Derek Carr. After getting boat raced by USC in LA last week, Fresno State came into Rice-Eccles Stadium, and for Bulldog fans, it must have been like deja vu.
Almost everything broke Utah's way Saturday afternoon. Right off the bat the Utes established themselves, and to a welcome site to Ute fans, they jumped out to a fast start. Defensively, Utah held Fresno State without a first down in the entire 1st quarter. That's right, the defense that everyone was panicking about 10 days ago held a more talented team than ISU to five consecutive three-and-outs, and six out of seven possessions to three-and-out. To counter that, Utah's offense scored their first three possessions with the ball. This game was essentially over after the 1st quarter.
Utah's offense really showed off the weapons at Travis Wilson's disposal. Wilson had five touchdown passes on Saturday, and he didn't even play most of the 2nd half. He also went for a rather pedestrian looking 11-of-20 passing, for 181 yards and zero interceptions. Wilson played a smart game, outside of one intentional grounding. He wasn't afraid to throw the ball away, which helped lead to some of his incompletions. He has a great connection with three of his big playmakers, Dres Anderson, Kenneth Scott and Westlee Tonga. Both Anderson and Scott had two touchdown catches a piece, and both had some spectacular catches for scores. Anderson had a great over the shoulder catch on a perfect ball from Wilson, from 38 yards out. Scott had a great toe touching touchdown catch on a fade in the red zone, and a catch with some great juking moves leading to some serious yards after catch to score, from 36 yards out. Tonga wouldn't be outdone though, by catching a pass from Wilson on 4th-and-short and dragging multiple Bulldogs into the end zone.
The Utes were also very diverse and dangerous on the ground as well. The three-headed running monster of Devontae Booker, Bubba Poole and Travis Wilson ran for 158 yards, and the Utes as a team ran for 258. Wilson has improved greatly on the read-option since last season, and was getting good chunk yardage on the ground, when the defense was really starting to focus on Poole and Booker.
The offensive line was improved on Saturday. Much better at both run and pass blocking. Often times Wilson had ample time to sit back in the pocket to deliver a strike to any one of his play makers. They also got better push off the ball to help Booker and Poole find open field.
Another major concern coming into the Fresno game? The Utes run defense, and it appears to be just fine. Utah shut down the Bulldogs rushing game, only allowing 55 yards on the ground, for an average of 1.4 yards per rush. Nate Orchard and crew were just monsters, recording seven sacks in the game, and constantly pressuring the quarterback for Fresno State. Orchard was also playing a bit of a roving linebacker position, similar to Trevor Reilly last season, to keep the offense guessing where he may be coming from.
As for the pass defense, there was some good strides made from last week to this week. Both Dominique Hatfield and Eric Rowe played well on the outside. Yeah, Rowe got picked on a little bit, but he was in position almost every time and just needs to start making the play on the ball. Justin Thomas also played very well at the nickel back position. They seemed to go after him a little bit, and he broke up one pass, and was in perfect position almost every time when the ball went his way. I'm still a little concerned about the linebackers in coverage, specifically in the middle of the field. There seemed to be some gaps that Fresno could have exploited, and did a couple times against the twos.
As for special teams, Andy Phillips hit his one field goal attempt, and Tom Hackett was a pure assassin with the punts he was laying down. That dude seems to have some kind of guidance system on the ball to stick it within the 10 yard line.
Overall, I saw the improvement I wanted to see going from week one to week two. Sure, Fresno isn't as good as they were last year, but Utah dominated them in every aspect of the game, not unlike fellow Pac-12er USC. Now the key is to rest up, heal any bumps and bruises, and watch film like crazy to prepare for the trip to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan in two weeks. Utah needs to use every day of this BYE to tighten up their game even more, including some penalties, which there were too many of today (12 for 118 yards). If Utah goes in prepared and focused, I like their chances.
What are your impressions of the Utes after the Fresno game?
|Net rushing yards||55||258|
|Net passing yards||283||268|
|3rd Down Conversions||5 of 16 (31%)||8 of 17 (47%)|
|4th Down Conversions||0 of 2||1 of 2|
|Points off Turnovers||0||14|