This loss is tough to swallow for Ute fans. Coming off of a bye week, many fans, including myself, expected Utah to get back on track by leaving Pullman with a victory. Unfortunately, that was not the case for the Utes. While there’s plenty of blame to go around, believe it or not, there were some bright spots for the Utes.
Offense - B-
For the first half, the Utah offense did exactly what I expected them to do against an inferior defense. The first half was exactly what Ute fans had so desperately wanted the season to look like on the offensive side of the ball. Huntley and Moss looked like the dynamic rushing duo that we had anticipated coming into the season as they combined for 3 rushing touchdowns in the first 30 minutes of play. Unfortunately, that was not the case in the second half as the Utes struggled to consistently move the ball against the Cougars and managed only 3 second-half points. Of course, some of that can be attributed to second half adjustments on the part of Washington State, but some of the offense’s struggles were due to a departure away from what had worked in the first half. For the majority of the second half, Utah returned to what has frustrated fans through the first 4 games of the season, taking the ball out of Moss’ hands and instead requiring Huntley to make throws and run the ball himself. While the offense certainly has improved since their showing two weeks ago against Washington, a failure to execute in the second half causes the offense to earn a full ‘B’ letter grade.
Defense - C-
It was almost as if the offense and defense can’t be good at the same time. At least that’s what it felt like watching the Utes play on Saturday afternoon. While the offense made improvements and played at a high level in the first half, the defense struggled to contain the Cougar’s air raid offense for the first 30 minutes on Saturday. A Ute defense that came into Saturday as the number one defense in the country, allowed 445 total yards, all of them through the air, a far cry from the 204 yards per game the Utah defense allowed through the first 4 weeks. But when the offense struggled in the second half, the defense came alive, limiting the Cougars to just 7 second-half points. The reason the defensive grade comes in at a C- is because the play for much of the game was not up to the standard that we have come to expect from this defense in 2018.
Special Teams - B
It’s hard to look back at this game and give the Special Teams a fair assessment. On one hand, the Utes came away with a blocked field goal and Mitch Wishnowski and Matt Gay continued to play at a high level. But on the other hand, the Utes had a critical block in the back penalty late in the game on a Britain Covey punt return. While I don’t want to play the ‘what if’ game, what if the Utes hadn’t gotten called for a block in the back penalty and a Britain Covey punt return for a touchdown had counted? But also, what if Tyler Huntley had the arm of Aaron Rodgers and the poise of Tom Brady? It’s a slippery slope when thinking in terms of ‘what if.’ It’s hard to punish a special teams unit for a penalty call that could realistically be called on every kick return in every college football game (kind of like holding on a run play). But then again, what if Covey’s touchdown had stood?
Coaching - C-
It’s hard to assess what this coaching staff is really thinking. It seems like after every game it’s the same old story. ‘We need to get the ball to Zack Moss more.’ ‘We need to get back to what we do best.’ The same answers we have come to expect following a loss like this. It had seemed like this offense had finally found an identity as the Utes scored 21 points in the first half in Pullman. But as quickly as it had come, it was gone, as the offense returned to its old ways of inconsistent play, poor blocking up front, penalties, and missed throws. It’s hard to point a finger at a single person or position group, but coming off of a bye week, I expected more of this Utah team.
If there was ever a time to get things right for this year’s Utah squad, it’s this week as the Utes prepare to face the Stanford Cardinal, who may be without star running back Bryce Love. Here’s to hoping this Utah team can string together 4 quarters of solid play and come out of Palo Alto with a victory over the Cardinal.