Bleeding Red: Plenty to work on during bye after USC loss

The offense is the Jekyll to the defense’s Hyde
One wildly inconsistent, the other sure and true
Scoring like a hurricane or struggling like low tide
Without the solid defense the fans would go cuckoo

COMMENTARY — Just like Utah’s offense last Saturday, I got nothing.

Okay, anyone who even merely glanced beyond the first line knows that isn’t true. I think the same holds true for the Utes offense. Even though Utah displayed precious little offensive firepower against USC, looking beyond just that one game will show that the Utes still have a little more fuel in their offensive gas tank — while the tank may not be full, it certainly isn’t empty, either.

The inconsistency is the hardest aspect of Utah’s offense to deal with. Similar to the stock market, just when the Utes’ offense appears to be on the rise, there is always one or two infuriating downturns. The most telling similarity between Utah and the stock market is that while they both show promise at times, neither are paying me the dividends that I would ultimately like to see on a consistent basis. However, just like the stock market, in spite of its poor performance at times over the past few years, if we take a step back and look at the entire picture from a long-term perspective, we will realize that overall the Utes offense is still on the rise from a previously historical low.

Analogies aside, let’s be honest, the debacle at the Coliseum was hands-down the worst performance of the season by Utah’s offense. I am cranky enough on Monday mornings as it is. If I try and go through and micro-analyze all of the deficiencies in the Utes’ offensive play against the Trojans, I am going to be unbearable to be around for the remainder of the day. Suffice it to say, Utah’s offense played poorly, very poorly, in virtually all aspects of the game, resulting in the team’s largest margin of defeat this season — 16 points.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham summed it up succinctly.

“It was not just the quarterback, there were a lot of things involved,” he said. “It was a collective effort, and not a very good one overall.”

The one surprising twist in Saturday’s game was that it marked the first loss all season long in which Utah did not throw a pick-six (although a few interceptions looked like they might be returned all the way for a touchdown).

Instead of shooting fish in a barrel by taking shots at Utah’s offense, I would like to spend some time highlighting how well the defense has been playing of late.

The Utes held USC to just 30 yards rushing, and 260 total yards of offense. They had ten tackles for loss, and continue to lead the Pac-12 Conference in sacks.

The Achilles heel of Utah’s defense all season long has been its inability to get off of the field on third down. The Utes were much better against the Trojans, holding USC to 3 of 15 (20 percent) on third-down conversions.

With a little help from the offense, that defensive performance should be good enough to win most games.

But four turnovers by Utah’s O put the defense in very precarious predicaments from a field-position perspective. However, USC only scored one touchdown and three field goals off of those four turnovers. In particular, the Utes held the Trojans to a mere three yards before kicking a field goal after recovering a fumble on Utah’s 19-yard line.

The glaring lack of turnovers forced by Utah’s defense also continues to be a problem. Perhaps I’m asking the defense to do too much, but when the offense struggles as much as the Utes have recently, the defense needs to help the offense out with some turnovers and prime field position. Heaven forbid that Utah’s defense should turn the tables by actually running back an interception or a fumble recovery for a touchdown on its own.

Trevor Reilly continues to be the anchor of Utah’s stout defense, racking up 11 tackles against USC, including two sacks and two tackles for loss. In fact, earlier today Reilly was named as one of 12 semi-finalists for football’s prestigious Butkus Award, honoring the nation’s top linebacker.

As Guns N’ Roses so famously sang in that timeless ballad “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “Where do we go? Where do we go now?” So where does Utah go from here?

A very timely bye comes into play this week as the Utes try to right their sinking offensive ship.

The play at the quarterback position continues to be the single most critical element. When the quarterback plays well, the offense clicks as a whole. When the quarterback plays poorly it seems that the offense can’t do anything right.

I am willing to give Travis Wilson the benefit of the doubt and say that his play has been primarily hampered by injury, and that he is capable of playing much better than he has of late. Nevertheless, Jordan Wynn showed significant promise before a string of injuries not only made him largely ineffective but ultimately put an end to his playing career. Wilson isn’t in the same boat as Wynn yet, but he is not going to help Utah much more this year if he can’t get healthy in a hurry.

Utah has four games remaining and must win at least two of those games to be bowl eligible. Given the current state of affairs, it appears likely that the Utes are destined to suffer four consecutive losses as the next two opponents up are Arizona State and Oregon. Nevertheless, they end the season with Washington State and Colorado — two very winnable games.

Will Utah go bowling at the end of the season? I’ll turn to another awesome ‘80’s band, Asia, for the answer: “Only time will tell.”

~

Dwayne Vance is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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