It's been a few days since Utah, in a single night, deconstructed the mystique Oregon built over the better part of a decade. Having had some time to digest what happened on Saturday night in Eugene, let's take a look at five things we learned from last weekend's game.
1. Travis Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in college football right now.
Entering the season, the main knock on the Utah program was inconsistent quarterback play, and with good reason. Despite Wilson being a three year starter, he has missed a lot of time due to injury in his career and was benched twice last season in favor of Kendal Thompson. Wilson has been wildly inconsistent at times throughout his career and some wondered if he would ever live up to his billing coming out of high school.
So far this season, Wilson has put any questions about his play to rest. The senior quarterback saved his best season for last, and is playing brilliantly at the moment. Wilson shredded Oregon's defense, completing 60% of his passes for 227 yards and four touchdowns, while using his legs to run for another 100 yards and another touchdown. He did all this with a sprained left shoulder. Wilson currently ranks first (yes you read that correctly) in total QBR among all quarterbacks in college football with a total QBR of 92.8. That puts him just ahead of much hyped Cody Kessler of USC by 1.3 points, and well ahead of Cal's Jared Goff by 8.6 points.
2. Dave Christensen was the issue, not Wilson.
It seems to be no coincidence that Wilson is having a breakout season one year after Dave Christensen departed the coaching staff for Texas A&M. Many were critical of Wilson's play last season. Despite throwing for 18 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions, Wilson played overly cautious and timid at times last season. Many wondered if Wilson was being held back by the coaching staff or if he was just lacking confidence.
Turns out it was probably a little of both. It has been rumored Christensen favored Kendal Thompson while Whittingham preferred Wilson last season. Since Christensen's departure, Wilson has had full support of the coaching staff and a play caller in Aaron Roderick that originally recruited Wilson to play at Utah. The result has been Wilson playing the most confident and relaxed football of his career. Against Oregon on Saturday, Wilson was the most commanding player on the field, accounting for five Utah touchdowns. His confidence in running the offense and leading the team was evident in his poise and demeanor. Roderick and Jim Harding's game plan took advantage of Wilson's strengths and put him in a position to lead Utah to the monumental victory.
3. The defensive line has depth
Hunter Dimick was a game time decision entering the Oregon game and was deemed not ready to play before kickoff. With the loss of Nate Orchard and his 18.5 sacks from last season to the NFL and Dimick who had 10 sacks last season not able to play, there might have been some concern surrounding Utah's pass rush.
Those questions were answered in Eugene, as the defense responded with 5 sacks and 6 tackles for a loss. Kylie Fitts, who had been filling in quite nicely for Dimick at defensive end, went down with an injury mid way through the game. In his place, other players stepped up, namely Pita Taumoepenu, who used his speed to gather two sacks. Jason Fanaika had 1 1/2 sacks of his own and also forced a fumble late in the game. The defensive line flushed the Oregon quarterbacks out of the pocket all night leading to some errant throws, including two interceptions thrown by Lockie. Now with eight sacks on the season, the defensive line is starting to resemble last season's, and the return of Dimick and Fitts will only make this unit more fearsome.
4. Utah has some pretty good freshman receivers on the roster.
Where would Utah be without their freshman? True freshman Britain Covey had already exploded onto the scene prior to Saturday's game, but he continued to play a huge role in the offense and special teams in the rout of Oregon. Covey was on the receiving end of two touchdowns, as he caught five passes 55 yards. He also turned in a bang up acting job on the fake punt return, where he slowly drifted backward, faking out the Oregon coverage unit until well after Boobie Hobbs had fielded the punt and was off to the races. Caleb Repp, another true freshman, got his first meaningful action and hauled in two touchdowns on the first two touchdown receptions of his career. Tyrone Smith who has started all three games this season, is quietly having a good freshman season as well and had two receptions for 18 yards against Oregon. Of Utah's five touchdown passes on saturday, four were completed to true freshman receivers.
5. Utah is a legitimate Pac-12 title contender.
If there were any questions lingering of whether Utah could hang with top teams in the Pac-12, they have now be eviscerated. The win over Oregon in Eugene was not noteworthy just because Utah won the game, but in the way they won. This win was beyond convincing and it came against a team that played in the national championship game just last January. This was the signature win Utah has been looking for since entering the Pac-12. This win knocks down any remaining perceptions that Utah doesn't belong in a Power 5 conference and clearly announces them as a force to be reckoned with not just in the Pac-12 south, but around the nation.