The Utes ended Stanford’s 11-game home win streak as they upset the fourteenth-ranked Cardinal 40-21 on Saturday night. The win was the biggest victory for the Utes since they upset the Trojans in 2016. While everyone on the team deserves credit for the big win, I still need to give out game balls for the Utes.
Offense - Troy Taylor
There are a lot of different people who deserve a game ball on the offensive side for the Utes. But as I think about who is most deserving I can’t help but give it to Troy Taylor. The offensive coordinator for the Utes has been in hot water for nearly the entire season. Fans were calling for the OC to be fired as the offense sputtered to start the season and the Utes fell to 2-2 after a loss to Washington State. While the criticism was certainly fair, it never seemed to bother Taylor as he continued to work with his offense. Their hard work finally paid off as they put up 33 offensive points against the Cardinal. I couldn’t just give the award to a single player because Taylor had everyone ready for this game. Moss carried the ball 20 times for 160 yards - good for 8 yards per carry - and 2 touchdowns. The offensive line was opening up holes for the Utes’ running backs all game long, and the receivers played their best game of the season. But they weren’t the only ones who had a breakout game. Utah QB Tyler Huntley had one of his best games as a Ute, not necessarily statistically, but from a game management standpoint. After catching a lot of flack last week for giving him my game ball, Huntley was efficient in leading the Utes down the field and making the right decisions. He didn’t turn the ball over, and when the game got tight, he delivered a beautiful pass to Samson Nacua to give the Utes some breathing room. If Troy Taylor can have Huntley, and the rest of the Utah offense looking like this, then there is no reason the Utes can’t win the Pac-12 South.
Defense - Jaylon Johnson
It was early in the game, but Jaylon Johnson certainly had the play of the game on a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown. Leading 7-0, the Utes defense was backed up to their own endzone as Costello and the Stanford offense was in scoring position. But instead of knotting the game up at 7 apiece, Johnson picked off a Stanford pass and took it the distance. And in a blink of an eye, the Utes were up 14-0. This play was huge for the Utes, not only because it was a 14-point swing and gave Utah a 2 possession lead, but because it set the tone for the rest of the game. It’s hard to say exactly how the game would have played out if Stanford had scored on that possession, but it was obvious that the interception gave Utah a boost of confidence it needed as the game went on, proving to the Utes and to their fans that they could not only compete with, but beat the Cardinal. The defense went on to force 3 more turnovers following the interception, but none was bigger than Johnson’s 100-yard pick-six.
Special Teams - Matt Gay
The defending Lou Groza Award winner showed us once again why he is considered one of the best kickers in the country. Gay went 4-4 on field goals - 48, 49, 34, and 37 yards. While field goals may not seem ideal at the time, Gay’s made field goals following long drives by the Utes’ offense gives the team the confidence they need going forward. Any time the offense puts together a 9 play, 4-minute drive that ends in points, it can give the offense the confidence that they can go out and beat anyone. And while it’s something that most fans don’t appreciate as much as they should, we’ve seen the difference a reliable kicker can make with teams like Florida State and Wisconsin in recent weeks. So while this certainly won’t be the last time Gay makes an appearance on this list, let’s take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are to have a reliable kicker on our team.
Who do you think deserved a game ball? Let me know in the comment section.