It was a win that the Utes desperately needed and they certainly played like it. Utah played a near perfect game Saturday night and left Palo Alto with the victory, bring the Utes to 4-0 all-time at Stanford. From top to bottom, the Utes were terrific nearly all night. Here are my grades for the win.
Offense - A
When Utah fans imagined an offense led by a more developed Tyler Huntley, with Zack Moss coming out of the backfield and Britain Covey returning from a mission, this is what they expected to see. The offense finally lived up to the hype and it could not have come at a better time for the Utes. On the road against a Top-15 team is not the game in which I expected the Utes’ offense to explode for a big game. Yet they did it. After lackluster performances against NIU and Washington, and an up-and-down game against Washington State, it was hard to imagine the Utah offense putting it all together before their matchup with the Cardinal. But credit to Troy Taylor, he had this offense ready to play. Zack Moss, as usual, was huge in the run game for the Utes and the receivers seemed to have made big strides since their game against Washington in which they struggled with numerous dropped passes. But most importantly, for the team and for the fans, Tyler Huntley played what I believe to be his best game in a Utah uniform. The quarterback didn’t put up huge numbers, but he was able to lead an efficient offense that managed to put up 40 points against a stout defense. This was easily the most impressive performance by the Ute offense this season, earning them an A grade.
Defense - A
Any time you go on the road against a top-15 team and force 4 turnovers, complete with a defensive touchdown, you have earned yourself an A grade in my book. This isn’t a surprise to Utah fans, after all, this defense was the number one defense in the country going into last week’s game against the Washington State Cougars. But the way in which the Ute defense was able to stand their ground and limit the Stanford offense was very impressive. Every time the defense needed a big stop they got one, whether it was forcing a punt or coming away with a turnover. The defensive front was able to generate pressure K.J. Costello all night long, forcing 4 sacks and 2 interceptions. Everyone from Jaylon Johnson and Chase Hansen to Maxs Tupai and Francis Bernard were making plays for the Utes all night long. It’s defensive play like this that keeps me optimistic about Utah’s chances at a Pac-12 South title.
Special Teams - A
What more can you say about the Special Teams unit for Utah? We as fans are spoiled to the point where a 4-4 field goal game by Matt Gay is exactly what you would expect from the Utes. Mitch Wishnowski was great as usual and the return team didn’t commit any costly mistakes, which is exactly what you want from them. Fortunately, this game didn’t come down to special teams. But if it did, I am more than confident that the Utes would be in good hands with this special teams unit on the field.
Coaching - A
A lot has been made about the coaches over the past couple of weeks. I’ve seen it on Twitter, hoards of Utah fans calling for Whittingham and Taylor to be fired. But there’s no denying that Whittingham, Taylor, and Scalley had this team ready to play from the start. While Scalley and Whittingham certainly deserve praise for their performances, the MVP among the coaches was definitely Troy Taylor. Taylor’s offense has been scrutinized for weeks, and deservingly so. But this game was finally the coming out party that Ute fans have anxiously been awaiting. The play calling was aggressive, yet kept the ball in the hands of their playmakers and put everyone in a position to be successful. They didn’t ask Huntley to make big throws downfield but rather kept everything short and in front of the QB. Additionally, Ute fans finally got their wish as Moss carried the ball 20 times, accruing 160 yards and 2 touchdowns. This is exactly what Utah must continue to do, put the ball in the hands of their playmakers and putting players in situations where they are comfortable and can be successful.
Straight A’s across the board for the Utes this week following their big win over the Stanford Cardinal. Do you think this will be the turning point in the season for the Utes? How would you grade their performance in Palo Alto? Let me know in the comments.