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Grading out the Utes victory over Oregon

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NCAA Football: Oregon at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Utes got back to their winning ways with a victory over the Oregon Ducks on Saturday afternoon, bringing Utah’s record to 7-3 on the season. A win over the Ducks kept Utah in the race for the Pac-12 South Championship, now needing a win over Colorado and an Arizona State loss to get to Santa Clara. The Utes had an impressive performance and as a result, have earned high grades for their win.

Offense - B

Considering the circumstances, the offense for the Utes played extremely well. There were a lot of questions regarding how the Utes would perform offensively after losing 80% of their offensive contribution due to season-ending injuries for Zack Moss and Tyler Huntley, but it seemed as if the offense didn’t miss a step as they were able to put up 32 points and 494 yards of total offense. The Utes came into the game with a balanced attack, rushing for 232 yards on 47 attempts and throwing for 262 yards on 31 attempts. It was running back by committee for the Utes who saw four players have multiple rushing attempts. The only thing that kept the Utes from earning an ‘A grade’ was their inability to punch it in the end zone time after time. Overall, the Utes had four drives that stalled within the Oregon 20 yard line, three of which stalled within the Oregon 5 yard line. The Utah offense did enough to get out of Rice Eccles with the win, but they will need to come away with more than nine points on three drives inside the opponents five yard line if they want to beat great teams.

Defense - A

The Utah defense had a bounce back performance as they were able to contain the electric Oregon offense for the most part. A week after allowing 38 points to Arizona State, Utah held the Ducks to just 25 points, and eight of those only came after a special teams error that put the defense in a very difficult position. The key to containing the Ducks was the Utes ability to stop the run game, allowing only 117 rushing yards by the Ducks, 60 less than the Duck’s average headed into the game. The defense was going to be relied on heavily after the Utes lost both Huntley and Moss, and they certainly lived up to the lofty expectations after a disappointing showing against the Sun Devils. The pressure doesn’t stop now, however. If the Utes are going to win out, including a potential conference championship and bowl game, the defense doesn’t have any room for error.

Special Teams - B

This was the most conflicting grade for me. On one hand the Utes special teams played phenomenally for 99% of the game. But of course, there was the blocked punt deep in their own territory that set up the Ducks for an easy touchdown. So how much does one negative play impact the grade? So after much deliberation, I feel as if a ‘B’ is a satisfactory grade. The blocked punt almost gave the Ducks the victory, but Matt Gay’s six field goals were what inevitably made the difference and gave the Utes the victory. The blocked punt isn’t concerning in the long term, as Mitch Wishnowsky is the best punter in the NCAA and unfortunately he just held the ball for half-a-second too long. Gay’s performance, however, is very encouraging, as the Utes offense will need to lean on the Lou Groza Award winner heavily over these next few weeks.

Coaching - A

The Utes were dead in the water. They had just lost on the road to ASU and given up control of their own destiny. And if things couldn’t get worse, they lost their starting QB for the season. But no worries, they have Zack Moss and if the Utes just give him the ball 30 times, he should be enough to get the win. But then Moss needed season ending surgery and the November football gods had punished the Utes once again. But ultimately, the Utes coaching staff came into the Oregon game with a fantastic game plan. The Utah offense was balanced and efficient. They were able to move the ball down field against a beat up Oregon defense and despite a lack of touchdowns, they were still able to put points on the board. And the Utah defense was able to bounce back and contain the Oregon offense. Down their two best offensive weapons, Whittingham and Taylor deserve a lot of credit for getting the win.