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Grading out the Utes’ performance in the Pac-12 Championship

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Utah vs Washington Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It was the biggest game of the decade, and maybe in program history, for the Utes as they came into Santa Clara hoping to get revenge against the Huskies on their way to the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately for the Utes, however, only two units played as if a birth in the Rose Bowl and a conference championship was on the line. It was a defensive battle that featured two of the nation’s top defenses and as a result, we failed to see a single offensive touchdown. Ultimately the Utes fell short of their goal of a Pac-12 Championship and will not be headed to the Rose Bowl. Here are my grades for the team’s performance.

Offense - F

Whenever two of college football’s top defenses get together it is going to be hard to move the ball and score points. But to only gain 188 total yards, rush for only 51, turn the ball over three times and fail to get in the end zone is dreadful if you are Troy Taylor and this Utah offense. Jason Shelley had his worst performance of the season as the redshirt freshman threw for only 137 yards and three interceptions. Yes, the pick-six was in no way Shelley’s fault but the other two were. Additionally, the Utes ground game, a facet the offense relies on so heavily, was never able to get going against the Huskies as Armand Shyne only managed 37 rushing yards against the Washington front and the Utes only gained 51 yards as a team. And finally, the receiving core looked just like they did in their first matchup with the Huskies back in September. Dropped balls plagued the Utes’ receiving core just as before, only this time a dropped pass led to the only touchdown of the game, a 66-yard interception returned for a touchdown. The Utes were already down their starting quarterback and running back and lost WR Britain Covey early in the second half, and the rest of the offense didn’t make it any easier on themselves.

Defense - A

I don’t know what else the Utah defense could have done to come away with the win against Washington other than come away with some defensive scores. But if you are relying on your defense to put up points in order to get a victory, then you’re in bad shape. The Utah defense played tremendously as the Utes were able to keep the Huskies’ offense out of the end zone for the first time this season. The Ute defense essentially came away with three turnovers - one interception and two turnovers on downs - implementing a ‘bend don’t break’ mentality. At the end of the day the defense did everything they could to ensure a Pac-12 Championship, unfortunately, the offense just couldn’t get it done.

Special Teams - A

Much like the defense, I don’t know what else the Utah special teams could have done any better. Matt Gay was fantastic as the senior kicker snuck a 53-yard field goal in the uprights, giving the Utes their only points of the game. Additionally, the punt and kick return teams played mistake-free, not giving the Huskies the ball in Utah territory. Mitch Wishnowski had a great day punting the ball, averaging over 40 yards per punt. The special teams even came away with the play of the game for the Utes as John Penisini pushed his way through Washington’s field goal protection before getting a hand on the ball to block a Washington field goal attempt. If Utah had not blocked that field goal attempt they would not have had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. So again, other than a special teams score, there wasn’t much more the unit could have done to come away with a win and a conference championship.

Coaching - B

I didn’t have much issue with how the game was coached on the part of the Utes. As a coach, you don’t plan on fluke dropped passes that turn into a pick-six. And when you rush the ball 25 times for an average of two yards per carry, well then there’s really not much else you can do from an offensive standpoint. And really other than the offense, the rest of the team played very, very good. The defense was fantastic. Special teams was pretty much flawless. It was just the offense who couldn’t get anything going. And I suppose, when you’re playing without your three best offensive weapons (Huntley, Moss and Covey) against the 12th ranked defense in the nation you are going to have trouble moving the ball. My only issue was at the end, running a wide receiver screen pass on the final possession on a second-and-11 with only 39 seconds left. Other than that I thought the team was well coached, they just couldn’t get things going on offense no matter what they tried.

Special Edition Grade: Officiating - F----