The Utah Utes made a statement last week in a shootout victory over the UCLA Bruins and that statement is, “Don’t count us out just yet.” Utah showed great stamina and a will to win. Here are three things we learned about Utah in the battle against UCLA.
1. Joe Williams, Ladies and Gentleman
If we thought Joe Williams looked good last week, this week was validation that bringing him back may be just what the doctor ordered (pun intended) for the Utes. In the press conference after the win over the Bruins in the Rose Bowl, Joe Williams put it best when speaking on the UCLA defense, “I’m pretty sure they were tired of seeing the back of my jersey.” In his second game out of retirement Williams had 29 carries and rushed for 332 yards setting a school record. After this performance, he now tops the leaderboard for the Utes with a total of 85 attempts and 599 yards.
2. Strip the ball or get the tackle
This is a controversial topic amongst Ute fans that has ruffled my feathers for years. Should they attempt to strip the ball or get the solid tackle? Without question Utah is a leader in being a takeaway defense, it’s just what they do. They lead the PAC-12 with Brian Allen in interceptions and Chase Hansen leads in forced fumbles. The problem with focusing so heavily on forcing turnovers is that it does not always make for completing tackles once the opposing team has entered the line of scrimmage. Nearly all of UCLA’s touchdowns came off of passing plays that included several missed tackles as the Utes consistently focused more on stripping the ball instead of making the tackle. This is a key area that the Utes have to clean up as they face yet another passing offense in Washington.
3. Clutch specialists
Currently, the only real concern for the Utes on special teams is the kick off and punt coverage, who combined allowing almost 150 yards in five returns. The Utes were the first to receive against the Bruins and they started out the game by capitalizing on that. Cory Butler-Byrd got things going with a 99-yard kickoff return and put Utah up 7-0 over UCLA. Mitch Wishnowsky, once again, proved to be a key component for the Utes special teams with seven punts and over 300 yards. While not all roses in the Rose Bowl, Andy Phillips missed his first field goal attempt of the game from 44 yards out. Phillips then went on to clean it up and make three field goals from further out than the missed attempt with two from 45 yards out and one from 46 yards out.
The victory over UCLA garnered the attention of ESPN’s College GameDay for what could possibly be Utah’s toughest matchup yet, number four ranked and undefeated, the Washington Huskies.