This one hurts Ute fans. Utah was in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 South race and a win over the Sun Devils would have been the last big hurdle the Utes needed to get past in order to turn the dreams of a South Division Championship into a reality. But instead, we’re left to fight our way through these next two games and hope that ASU falls at least once more this season.
Here are my grades for the Utes.
Offense - B-
Normally, if I were to tell you that Zack Moss ran for 128 yards and a touchdown then that should be enough for the Utes to get the victory. Unfortunately, that was not the case for Utah this week. Many of the problems that hampered Utah throughout the month of September reared their ugly head once again. Dropped passes, turnovers and poor decision making plagued the Utes all afternoon in Tempe. The game played out very similar to that of the matchup with Washington State, with the Utes dominating the line of scrimmage for much of the first half and moving the ball seemingly at will and yet struggled to do anything in the final 30 minutes. The Ute’s streak of 4 games with over 40 points was going to come to an end eventually, but I didn’t expect the offense to struggle this much against the 62nd ranked total defense in the country.
Defense - D-
One of our readers said it last week, I am grading on a curve based on past performances. And the performance by the Utah defense this week was a far cry from anything they were able to do in the first 8 weeks of the season. Headed into the week, the Ute’s defense was ranked 7th in the country in total defense, but they looked like anything but a top-10 defense in a game where the ASU offense was able to move up and down the field with little resistant. Giving up 175 yards and 2 touchdowns to ASU runningback Eno Benjamin is bad enough, but to allow N’Keal Harry to go for 161 yards and 3 touchdowns in inexcusable. ASU managed 536 yards and 38 points against a defense that until this point in the season had been dominant. Occasional missed tackles and blown coverages are one thing but as a defense, the Utes got flat-out outplayed for 60 minutes by the Sun Devils.
Special Teams - A-
What can you say about the Ute’s special teams? They did what they could to try to get this win. Yes, there was a poor decision by Britain Covey to try to field that punt with 6 minutes to go in the fourth quarter but a penalty by ASU should have given the Utes a second chance to get the ball back if it were not for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the same play that gave the Sun Devils an automatic first down and eventually a touchdown that sealed the victory. However, I can’t penalize the special teams unit for a penalty that occurred after the play. But I’m sure people will play the ‘what if’ game about that play for quite a while. Overall, the Ute’s special teams did what they could. Covey had a pair of impressive kick returns, Mitch Wishnowski was fantastic as always and Matt Gay went 2-2 on field goal attempts.
Coaching - F
Kyle Whittingham being outcoached by Herm Edwards is not something I thought I would ever see. In my grades last week I talked about how slow starts by the Utes were worrisome and could come back to haunt the Utes. I also said that the coaching staff was partly to blame when it came to these targeting penalties. And that was exactly the case in Saturday’s game. A targeting call on ASU’s first possession negated a forced field goal and instead gave the Sun Devils a first-and-goal opportunity that eventually helped ASU to build an early 14-0 lead. But more concerning are two things. First, a lack of adjustments. It was clear that the offense was not having success in the second half and yet I could not identify any adjustments. Even more concerning is the struggles by the Utes in the month of November. Since 2014, the Utes have a 7-10 record in Pac-12 play in the month of November. But I don’t remember any of those other 9 losses stinging as much as this one does.