The Utes have taken firm control over the Pac-12 South race with a dominating win over the USC Trojans on Saturday night. As long as the Utes win out for the rest of their conference schedule they will be headed to Santa Clara with a chance to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time in program history. Utah’s victory over the Trojans should give every Ute fan hope that a trip to Santa Clara, and even Pasadena, is within reach for the Utes. Utah dominated in nearly every aspect of the game in their 41-28 victory. With that said, here are my grades for the Utes.
Offense - A
Every Pac-12 team should be worried that the Utes have found an offense to go along with their elite defense and dominating special teams unit. The Utes have been on a roll offensively for the past three weeks as they have scored 40 or points in three straight games for the first time in the Pac-12 era, and the first time since 2010. In addition to scoring 41 points, the Utes put up 541 yards of total offense. The Utes dominated USC with a balanced attack, gaining 200 yards on the ground on 51 attempts and throwing for 341 yards on 30 attempts. Troy Taylor had a terrific game plan entering this game and the offense was able to execute. Much had been made of Troy Taylor’s offense through the first month of the season but after dominating their opponents for three consecutive weeks, the Utes may now have found the final piece of the puzzle in order to win the Pac-12 South.
Defense - A
The Utes have an elite defense. That was no secret. But the way in which the Utes defense dismantled the Trojan offense was nothing short of impressive. USC pulled had to reach deep into their playbook and yet the defense remained unbreakable for 60 minutes. The Utes defense was put into some difficult situations. In back to back possessions the USC offense was given the ball within the Utes 20 yard line and yet only walked away with 7 points thanks to one of the best defenses in the country. In hindsight, the Trojans really were only able to put together one solid scoring drive, while 21 of the Trojans points came off of what you could call “fluke” plays, namely an incredibly lucky TD catch, a defensive lineman returning a fumble 48 yards for a TD, and a blocked punt. It was a solid defensive performance all around by the Utes. Even USC Offensive Coordinator Tee Martin called it a “rough night” and compared it to the Trojans loss to Alabama in 2016. If you’re the Utes defense and you’re being compared to an Alabama defense, then you’re doing something right.
Special Teams - C
With everything seemingly going right the Utes all night long, it was surprising to see the Utes special teams struggle. In fact, multiple special teams mishaps almost allowed USC to get back into the game late in the fourth quarter. It started with a muffed punt by Britain Covey. The decision to not call a fair catch in that situation or even to let the ball go rather than catch it on the run seemed very uncharacteristic of Covey. The sophomore is usually a very smart returner as he doesn’t try to force anything if it’s not there and knows the situation the Utes are in before taking the field. So to see him try to chase down a ball on the far sideline without calling a fair catch, only to drop the ball, giving the USC offense a chance to get back into the game was surprising. But that wasn’t the only uncharacteristic play by Utah’s special teams. The following possession we saw something that we thought we would never see, a blocked punt. The Trojans had come dangerously close to blocking a punt a couple of times earlier in the game, but they finally got one in the fourth quarter, leading to a USC touchdown.
Coaching - A
This entire week Kyle Whittingham tried to play off the Utes matchup with USC as ‘just another game’ and downplay the importance of this particular game. But the reality was, this was the biggest game for the Utes up to this point in the season. A loss by Utah Saturday night meant that they were, in all likelihood, eliminated from the Pac-12 South race. And the Utes certainly played like it. The Utes dominated USC offensively and defensively all night long. The coaches drew up a perfect game plan against the Trojans and the players executed it nearly flawlessly. But now that the Utes have taken care of business against USC, it’s up to Kyle Whittingham and the rest of the Utah coaching staff to ensure that the players are ready for the biggest game of the season next week against UCLA because a loss next week will undo all of the good that Saturday’s win did. Every game from here on out is the biggest game of the season, and the pressure is on Whittingham to make sure the players know it.