We waited nine months for this past weekend to happen. We talked, speculated, and argued about millions of random scenarios and situations that could possibly occur. We read articles and watched shows just killing time until the football season began. Finally, the season arrived, and we got to play football rather than only dream about it.
AND. IT. WAS. AMAZING.
Football is back everybody! There is no better phrase in the English language. Oh wait, there is one phrase that’s better: Utah beat BYU and is now 1-0. The hundredth playing of the Holy War was another memorable one for Utah and another in a long string of disappointments this decade for BYU. You can’t win a championship in Week 1, but it is possible to lose one. Thankfully, Utah kept themselves on the path for glory, and BYU kept themselves on the path for the Hawaii Bowl.
There’s a lot to take in after nine months of waiting, so let’s dive into the most important things we learned after our first week of glorious football.
This is the Same Utah Team We See Every Year, but Maybe Better
I find it fascinating that no matter how many times Utah changes offensive coordinators, the offense barely changes from one season to the next. If you time traveled here but didn’t know what year it was, and your only point of reference was watching the Utah offense, you would have no clue what year we were in. It could be 2015, 2011, or 2019. Heck, it could probably be 2024 based on how little the offense changes from year to year.
The defense for Utah, per usual, is a wrecking crew once again. BYU moved the ball fairly well in the first half, racking up 196 yards but failing to get into the end zone multiple times. Zach Wilson, who is having real football people compare him to Johnny Manziel, did a lot of scrambling, and the defense struggled to slow him down. Wilson also connected with tight end Matt Bushman for six receptions and 62 yards, including some crucial first down catches.
However, things all changed in the second half. Utah made some crucial second half adjustments to the defense. While the line only managed one sack on Wilson, he was constantly under pressure, and they did a better job of limiting his ability to run as well. The Cougars offense, which received so much hype coming into the game, only managed 104 yards after halftime.
This is the same Utah team we see every year. One with some questions on offense (these questions always revolve around the wide receivers), a really strong defense with no clear holes, and a running back that is going to get a ton of carries. It’s the Utah way at this point. The difference is, this team has more talent than any of those previous teams since Utah joined the Pac-12. This model of Utah football has gotten to some legitimate highs (the first half of 2015 and all of 2018 come to mind), and some painful lows (the second half of 2015 and 2017). However, the talent is there for the Utes’ to raise both their floor and their ceiling this season. As always, it revolves around resolving the questions surrounding Utah on the offensive side of the ball.
Zack Moss is the Best Player on the Team
We all expected this coming in. It was a crucial moment for the team when Zack Moss decided to return for his senior season. He was expected to carry a major roll in the offense. He was expected to be one of the best running backs in the country. But I don’t know if anyone expected him to come out in Week 1 and do what he did.
Moss carried the ball 29(!) times in the game for 187 yards. That’s 6.4 yards per carry. BYU knew exactly what was coming and they still couldn’t stop it time and time again. The funniest part was definitely the last drive of the game. Utah held the ball for the final nine minutes of regulation. On that drive, they gave the ball to Moss on nine of the first ten plays. Moss ran for five or more yards on six of those plays. Utah didn’t even try to change it up. They knew nobody on that defense was stopping Moss, and he iced the game for the Utes.
Tyler Huntley is the Most Important Player on the Team
Zack Moss is the best player for Utah, but Tyler Huntley will be the most important player in determining how far the Utes go this year. Huntley doesn’t have to be an All-American this year for Utah to win the Pac-12, but there’s going to come a game where Huntley will have to step up and win the game for the Utes. It will likely be against an opponent like Washington, where the talent gap is far more even, and Utah can’t just run Zack Moss right up the middle every single play.
In a moment like that, either the defense is going to have to have a perfect game, or Huntley is going to need to elevate his game and carry the offense. Huntley showed flashes last season of being an above average quarterback, but he’ll need to be more consistent this year for Utah to reach its lofty expectations.
Huntley received a lot of criticism Thursday for his play on the field and his words off the field (more on that later). Yes, Huntley did not have an overly impressive game, he had some happy feet in the pocket, was too quick to scramble, and rarely threw the ball deep. He finished the game with only 106 passing yards, 39 rushing yards, and no touchdowns or interceptions.
Those numbers don’t look great, but Utah didn’t need him to do much more than that to win the game. He completed 13 of 16 passes, and two of those incompletions were horrible drops by the receivers that would have added an extra 50 yards to his passing totals. So, he was almost perfect in executing exactly what the coaches were asking him to do.
The happy feet in the pocket are a little concerning, Huntley definitely was too quick to scamper out of the pocket on several occasions, leading to scrambles for little gain or short completions. However, none of his scrambling resulted in sacks, as BYU didn’t take him down once. So, while his scrambles weren’t huge playmakers, he was really smart about taking care of the ball and gaining yards.
I think the likeliest explanation for his happy feet is this: the last time Huntley played a real football game, he got destroyed in the pocket by an Arizona State defender and broke his collarbone. That time, he stayed in the pocket too long trying to make a play and it cost him the season. It takes time to mentally recover from something like that, just as it does physically. Huntley now has two games against Northern Illinois and Idaho State to settle in and get more comfortable. That should give him plenty of time to be ready to elevate his game for Pac-12 play.
So, this is What Fans of Other Teams Feel Like
Utah has become branded as the school that specializes in special teams. Kyle Whittingham never has problems finding punters or kickers, right? Well, after one game, it doesn’t look like that’s the case this season. Andrew Strauch was named the starter and promptly missed his first PAT attempt. He followed that up by missing a 25-yard field goal in the second half. Whittingham benched Strauch after that in favor of Jadon Redding, but the confidence of every Utah fan in the kicking game has now been shaken.
College kickers have been a long running joke on social media, but it was a joke Utah could laugh at with no feelings of empathy. Now, we’re getting to learn what fans of other teams feel like when their kicker comes on to try an important kick. It’s not a feeling that I like. We need to go back.
The Social Media Team is Savage
Right after the game ended, the Utah Football twitter account tweeted this:
It’s amazing to know that the social media team had the stones to film this before the game had even happened. That’s some next level confidence and some excellent savagery. I don’t think I would have been willing to do that. I wouldn’t say I’m superstitious, but I am a little stitious.
Also, the social media team tweeted this fantastic burn out after the game:
The Pac-12 South is Utah’s to Win
The team that felt like the largest threat to Utah’s chance of winning the Pac-12 South took a major blow on Saturday night. USC lost starting quarterback JT Daniels for the rest of the season when he tore his ACL and meniscus against Fresno State.
USC will now have to rely on true freshman and three-star recruit Kedon Slovis for the rest of the season. This injury could very well torpedo USC’s season, especially because the team didn’t perform particularly well with Daniels starting as a freshman last year. To be fair, we have seen freshman come in and win major games for other programs. Those guys are generally five-star recruits though. Trevor Lawrence, Bo Nix, and Tua Tagovailoa are good examples.
JT Daniels was a five-star recruit last year, the No. 16 player in the entire country entering college, and he still could only take USC to 5-7. If USC is going to be a real threat anymore, they better hope that Slovis is the gem of the century, or else Clay Helton is in for a rough season. Or maybe just a rough last few games if you know what I mean.
As for the rest of the South, they looked really bad this week. Arizona and UCLA both blew games to Group of 5 teams. Arizona State beat a Kent State team that went 2-10 last year by 23. That’s not going to impress anyone. Laviska Shenault Jr. looked really impressive at wide receiver for Colorado, but the rest of the team didn’t look particularly special against a bad Colorado State team. Colorado State had more yards than Colorado, they just turned the ball over four times in the loss.
The talent gap between Utah and the rest of the South grew this week. If Utah doesn’t win the South this year, something went horribly wrong. As for the North, despite the loss by the Ducks, Oregon and Washington are still the teams to beat. I’m sure Utah would feel plenty confident against either of those teams right now.
They So Poo-Poo
During the press conference after the game, Tyler Huntley gave us perhaps the greatest quote in the history of the Holy War when talking about BYU:
Tyler Huntley on BYU: “They so poo-poo ... you can tweet that.” pic.twitter.com/nM941tE1zm— Chris Kamrani (@chriskamrani) August 30, 2019
“They so poo-poo.”
There’s been a decent amount of criticism leveled against Huntley for saying that. People are attacking Huntley for the phrasing that he used, for his level of play during the game and just calling it unsportsmanlike.
Let’s start with his level of play on the field. Huntley acknowledged he has to get better and so did Kyle Whittingham. Plus, in that same press conference, Huntley was the first to say that “Zack Moss ran it down [BYU’s] throat.” He gave plenty of credit to Moss for carrying the offense. Huntley obviously isn’t trying to take all the credit for the win, so we don’t need to try putting words into his mouth and claim he thinks he single-handedly took down BYU.
Second, let’s talk about those attacking Huntley for his vocabulary and syntax. I’m sorry that Huntley isn’t as eloquent as you would like him to be. The kid is 21 years old. He’s still in college. He’s in a postgame press conference at 1 A.M. after playing in emotionally charged football game for five hours. Attacking his intelligence for this is ridiculous, because I’m sure everyone else was always just perfect and articulate in their speech at all times when they were 21. If anything, credit to him for roasting BYU in a way that people of all ages could understand.
The last attack on Huntley has been those calling his quote childish or unsportsmanlike. I respond with this: who cares? It’s a freaking rivalry game. BYU players spent all summer talking about beating Utah and ended each practice shouting, “Beat Utah!” Utah went out there and got the win in convincing fashion anyway. Anyone who understands the proper method of trash talking knows you should always talk the most trash after winning, not before. Huntley didn’t lose a game to BYU his entire four years on campus, he is allowed to talk trash if he wants.
You know what makes college football great? The rivalries. And a rivalry doesn’t grow by being cordial before, during and after every single game. Will BYU fans/players use this quote as motivation? Perhaps. But there’s already been eight games this decade that haven’t provided enough motivation for them to win yet. I doubt this will be any different. So, why can’t we all come down from our very high horses and just enjoy the rivalry, rather than attacking a kid for throwing out a really solid burn after another win? That quote was hilarious, and I will feel no shame in saying, “They so poo-poo,” about BYU, or any other team, for the rest of time.