Utah was pretty awesome in two of the three phases on Saturday night in their loss to Colorado. In a game that meant very little to Utah, the Utes just couldn’t get over the hump, in a very symbolic way, against the Buffs.
Let’s talk about the various sides of the ball, starting with special teams. This was an awesome game by special teams, as they were directly responsible for 10 of Utah’s points, including a Boobie Hobbs punt return for a touchdown, which opened up the scoring on the game. Later in the game, Kyle Fulks returned a kick off down to the Colorado 4 yard line, but Utah couldn’t punch it in (more on this in a moment). Andy Phillips, was 3 for 4 on field goals, only missing a 45 yarder just right. Mitch Wishnowsky was solid all game too, with a long of 50 yards on a punt, with 254 total punt yards. He really only had one “bad” punt, and it wasn’t that bad.
Onto the defense, after getting beat a bit in the first half, with CU beating them a bit down field, the Utah D really locked in in the second half. The Utes only gave up 20 points, as a fumble for a touchdown was responsible for 7 more. The Utes held CU to 378 total yards, which is well below their average. Plus, they were beating up Liufau all game long. He took some nasty shots. Utah held CU to 108 yards on the game, with an average of 2.8 yards per rush. Utah was only able to force two turnovers, but did an excellent job applying pressure, and making life hard on the CU offense. Major tip of the cap to Morgan Scalley for making some adjustments and keeping Utah in it. Shoot, even on the final play of the game, Utah was there to make the stop, but just missed the tackle that may have given Utah the ball back.
Now, to the offense. First, the stats. Utah had 339 total yards, with 160 through the air and 179 on the ground. They did have 4 turnovers, which one was pointless at the end of the first half, and another was very painful, as it came in the redzone by Joe Williams as Utah was looking to put more points on the board. With all of that said, something needs to change for the Utah offense. The last couple of games really were poor efforts, overall, for the Utah offense. Yes, the offense has improved this year, but the offensive talent has improved so much, almost making improvement inevitable. With the talent on the offensive side of the ball, Utah should not be going in draughts like they have the last couple of weeks, period. With guys like Tim Patrick, Joe Williams, Cory Butler-Byrd, Demari Simpkins, Raelon Singleton and Troy Williams, Utah has play makers all around the field.
With all that said, I’m putting this loss at the feet of Aaron Roderick. I’ve been a defender of Roderick, especially early on this season when the offense looked potent and kept teams honest. But, as what happened in the 2010 season when he was the playcaller, after a hot start, the offense slowed down in the last third of the season. Why? I would have to say adjustments. Teams got film on A-Rod and his play calling, and started to take things way, but he wouldn’t and didn’t counter.
Bringing this back to tonight’s game against CU, the Buffs have a good defense, but when you know what’s coming, it makes it a whole lot easier to defend. When you can predict a dive up the gut is coming, or a swing pass to Butler-Byrd, or a deep pass down the sideline to Patrick, teams can shut you down if you don’t try something different and get creative. On a couple of Utah’s drives, we saw some revereses, some passes to the flat and up the seam, and Utah was able to move the ball. I know, I know, the other plays set up these plays to succeed, but to a point of where it shocked everyone in the stadium because it was something fresh. I’ll give A-Rod credit, the Utes have been more aggressive down field this year, but running the same deep go pattern every time makes things predictable. How about a slant and go? Or a seam pattern by Butler-Byrd, or some wheelroutes? Yeah, Troy going 13-of-40 for 160 yards isn’t ideal, but I’m not sure how much of position he was in to succeed by the play calling. Troy had very tough throws, with a low chance of completion, all game long.
And finally to the red zone percentage, wow. I don’t know how to describe it. Utah was within the red zone five times, that’s a pretty solid number considering all the issues stated above. Many of those red zone appearances had Utah down to about the 5, but Utah was only able to punch in one touchdown... ONE! Out of those, say, about 20 plays within the 10 yard line, Joe Williams got the ball maybe 4 times. Of course, most of those plays were dives. The one really good run Joe had down there, he was held up, and then the ball was stripped and recovered at about the 4. Again, the play calling left a poor taste in my mouth. Try a pitch or a sweep, or something. CU was running downhill all game long to stop Joe, but there are other methods to get the run game going. If Utah punches in one of those field goals into a touchdown, we have a different game, if they go 60% touchdowns while down there, Utah wins! This has been an issue all season long, again,some of it was execution (Moss’ wrong cut against Cal on the goal line), but after continued issues, this is at the feet of the playcaller. Shoot, if Utah brings their TD percentage to the redzone up to 70% on the season, we’re talking about a really special season, but now we’re talking about a solid 8-4 season, instead of something special.
Next for the Utes is to see which bowl destination awaits them, which we’ll know a week from Sunday. In the time between now and that bowl game, hopefully A-Rod watches a ton of film, and decides to find an expanded play book.