The struggles for Utah’s offense continued Saturday night. After being shut out in the first half by the Huskies, the Utes offense led by junior quarterback Tyler Huntley managed to score just 10 points for the duration of the game. The Utes offensive struggles can be attributed in large part to a lackluster performance in the running game that included just 66 yards rushing by Zach Moss, and a total of just 68 rushing yards as a team. The Ute offense, for the majority of the game, appeared ineffective against the Northern Illinois defense. Fortunately for Utah, the offense was able to do just enough to get out of DeKalb with a victory. Following the win, Utah receiver Britain Covey made it clear that the offense needs to improve before their matchup with Washington this weekend.
In the words of Kyle Whittingham, “Thank goodness for the defense.” After allowing just 59 yards of total offense last week against Weber State, the Ute’s defense look dominant yet again against Northern Illinois. The defense held the Huskies to just two field goals for the game - making it the first time Utah has held an opponent without a touchdown since a 24-0 win over Southern Utah in 2016. In total, the defense was able to hold the Huskies to just 228 yards of total offense and just 111 passing yards. It also seems as if the defense took to heart Whittingham’s wish from last week for the defense to force more takeaways, as the Utes came away with 2 forced turnovers, a fumble recovery and an interception. The Utah defense also came away with the play of the night as linebacker Chase Hansen sealed the win with a pick-6 late in the fourth quarter, giving the Utes a 17-6 lead.
Special Teams: C-
It’s rarely, if ever, we see the special teams for the Utes struggle in a game. For years we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the special teams unit for Utah dominate in every aspect. But Saturday night was not one of those nights. Even Kyle Whittingham seemed surprised at how the special teams unit performed calling them “very average.” As a group, the special teams unit had a slew of mistakes Saturday night, including a muffed punt for the second week in a row, a blocked field goal and a missed field goal. The saving grace for the Ute’s special teams Saturday night was Mitch Wishnowsky who was relied on heavily, punting the ball 5 times for an average of 41.4 yards per punt.
The Utes need a lot of work to be done this week before they take on the ninth ranked Washington Huskies this weekend in Rice Eccles Stadium. It’s possible that Utah’s performance, specifically on the offensive side of the ball, could be attributed to ‘looking ahead’ to their matchup with Washington, or even the fact that it was their first road game of the year and while the saying goes, “defense travels,” sometimes the offense does not. But while there was nothing too alarming coming out of Saturday night’s game, there were some questionable moments. The decision to not give Zach Moss the ball on Utah’s possession with 2:50 remaining in the game, needing a first down to run out the clock was one of the moments. Overall, I don’t think the Ute’s struggles were anything to be seriously concerned about, but rather it was simply just an off night for the Utes offensively and on special teams.