It was a great start, things fell into place,
When the Utes and the Trojans started their race,
But even then, we should have gotten a hint,
This race was a marathon, not a sprint.
COMMENTARY – Utah Utes columnist Dwayne Vance is off this week, so I feel honored that he has asked me to fill in for him.
By now, Thursday’s disappointing game against USC is old news, so I won’t go into any detail. Suffice it to say, Utah’s defense once again gave the offense a golden opportunity to get a marquee win and, once again, the offense failed, especially in the second half.
In fact, the defense basically staked Utah to a 14-0, and then a 21-10 lead. A two-touchdown lead in the first quarter and an 11-point lead midway through the second quarter are supposed to be difficult to overcome for a visiting opponent. But with the offense walking in quicksand, the Trojans used a 17-point second quarter to take the lead by halftime.
But the third quarter was where things got really frustrating. From the start of the second half, the Utes offense was just plain awful. Utah got one first down in the third quarter (and a total of 27 yards). Second-half drives were short: three plays and punt, four plays and punt, three plays and punt, three plays and pick-six, and three plays and punt. Finally, in garbage time, Kyle Whittingham pulled Jon Hays and put in freshman Travis Wilson at quarterback, who led Utah to its only touchdown of the second half, a 5-yard KelvinYork run with 38 seconds left.
Does this create a quarterback controversy? Not yet, I would say. Wilson came in with five minutes left and a 38-21 deficit. A lot of USC’s defensive starters were chugging Gatorade on the bench at that point.
To me, the bigger issue is the identity of the Utah offense. Is rookie offensive coordinator Brian Johnson getting the most out of the tools available to him? With fragile Jordan Wynn out for good this time, did Utah do everything possible to get Hays and the other quarterbacks ready for this season? Is John White IV being used correctly?
Considering Utah is 102nd in the NCAA in passing and 112th in rushing (out of 120 D-1 teams), clearly the answer is a resounding “No!” to all three questions.
Certainly some of the blame falls on the players’ shoulders, but Johnson and his offensive staff aren’t helping a whole lot.
Hays is clearly not the guy to lead this team. We found that out last year. And yet, here we are in the same boat as a season ago, with Wynn done and Hays holding the keys to the offense. As good as Wilson is going to be, he’s not ready either. Utah needed a stop-gap – a hot junior college transfer that would be a great insurance policy if Wynn went down.
I know that’s easier said than done, but every recruiting effort in the off-season should have been made to that end.
And as for White, he is uber-talented and under-used. On the season, the speedy, shifty running back from Torrance, Calif., has just 78 carries for 301 yards and one (!) touchdown.
White didn’t play against BYU, but in Utah’s other four game, he’s averaged just 19 carries for 75 yards. This is a guy who had 1,519 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and almost single-handedly won several games for the Utes.
Utah has seven games left and, with a 2-3 record, needs to win four of those to be bowl-eligible and it would take five wins to assure a winning record.
Johnson has got to find more ways to get White touches. In the open field, White is deadly to opponents. A back of his caliber should have at least 30 touches a game.
If Utah wants to go to a bowl, White is the key.
And if the Utes are going to save this season, Johnson needs to figure things out – and fast. Road games at 4-2 UCLA this weekend and 4-0 Oregon State next weekend loom large. If the offense doesn’t wake up, 2-5 is a real possibility, no matter how good the defense plays.
Andy Griffin is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.