Wow. My heart is still racing after last night’s comeback victory over the team down south. It was a tale of two halves for the Utes as they found themselves down 20-0 at the half before scoring 28 unanswered points en route to a 35-27 victory. It was F grades across the board the Utes at the half, but as I try to find the perfect balance of grades for the first a second halves, I found the grades are weighted more towards the second half of play. But let’s face it, the second half is the one everyone wants to focus on anyway.
Offense - B-
Ignore the fact that the Utes only had 86 total yards to go along with four first downs in the first half and lets look at this in the bigger picture. When the final whistle blew the Utes had gained 296 total yards and the Utah offense had not turn the ball over. Keep in mind, the defense of the blue team is one of the best defenses the Utes have played against this season, ranking 22nd in the country in total defense. So while the first half was tough to watch, the Utes were finally able to get things going, scoring 35 points in the second half alone (28 from the offense). The run game was key for the Utes in the second half. After rushing for just 37 yards in the first half, the Utes managed to gain 118 yards on the ground in the final 30 minutes of play including three runs for a score, all in the fourth quarter of play. The Utes will certainly need to play much better this weekend as they take on Washington - who ranks 14th in the country in total defense - but the ability of the Utes on Saturday to make adjustments and make plays with the game on the line was encouraging to say the least.
Defense - C+
This was honestly the hardest grade I had to give out for Utah. On one hand, the TDS’ offense is not good and their run game is certainly not as good as it looked for much of Saturday’s game, especially considering they were without their top two running backs for the game. But on the other hand, the Utah defense were the first to put points on the board for the Utes after a pick-6 by Julian Blackmon and two huge fourth down stops ultimately clinched the game for the Utes. So in the end, I had to go somewhere in the middle. The TDS’ offense did whatever they wanted in the first half, rushing for 110 yards before the break and putting up 20 points against the 15th ranked defense in the nation. But just like the offense, key adjustments led to the blue team rushing for just 43 yards in the second half and they managed to score just once. Normally I would have given the defense a B grade, much like the offense but two things plagued the Utes for the majority of the game. Those things were a lack of contain of Zach Wilson who led Utah’s opponent in rushing yards and the inability to wrap up and make the tackle on the first try.
Special Teams - D-
Special teams was surprisingly bad Saturday night for the Utes. Normally the strength of the team, the special teams unit was the one facet of the game that never seemed to be able to get going for the Utes. It started with a turnover on the first punt of the game that gave the blue team the ball back in Utah territory setting up their first score of the game. It then continued with a blocked field goal and a 10-yard punt by Mitch Wishnowski. The offense and the defense both made adjustments at the half that ultimately led to the Utes making a comeback to win the game but for some reason, the Utes special teams could never figure it out. Here’s to hoping they can by next weekend.
Coaching - A
This will be the most controversial grade by far. As I sat there in freezing Rice Eccles Stadium at the half I remarked over and over again how the blue team seemed more prepared for this game than Utah and it was almost as if the Utes had a game next week they were looking forward to. And that falls on the coaches. If there was ever a game that Kyle Whittingham had his guys prepared for it was the game against the TDS. But again, it seemed as if the Utes weren’t focused for the first 30 minutes. But the A grade is a result of what happened next. The Utes made several adjustments that were key to fueling the come from behind victory. And yes, the Utes looked lost for the first half but adjustments at the half are mandatory for a good coaching staff and the Utes coaching staff did exactly that, earning them the high grade.