One game down and Utah is one and oh
But what do the Utes really have to show
The lessons from last week’s game are quite small
Thursday was just a scrimmage after all
COMMENTARY — After drubbing Idaho State by 42 points, the Utah Utes are still undefeated heading into Week 2. Given Utah’s fortunes (and misfortunes) during its first two years in the Pac-12, I’ll take any win I can get. The Utes’ magic number is now five — as in five more wins to become bowl eligible.
The Pac-12 had four showdowns with Big Sky teams over the opening weekend. For those of you interested in meaningless comparisons, Oregon State only beat Portland State by 15 points and Arizona State only beat Weber State by 31 points, but Stanford did beat UC Davis 45-0. In other words, Utah is already nipping at the heels of Stanford for supremacy in the Pac-12.
So what did we learn about the Utes from last week’s game?
Special teams could be a real bright spot for Utah. Unlike last year, Andy Phillips consistently kicked the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs, or at least deep enough that there was not a return. Utah only allowed a single yard on punt returns. The Utes also blocked the Bengals’ only field goal attempt.
Newcomer Kaelin Clay had quite a coming out party in returning both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns (46 yards on the punt, and a 100-yard coast-to-coast scamper on the kickoff). I can’t wait to see if similar results can be obtained against stiffer competition. Clay is a senior playing out his last year of eligibility after toiling in the junior college ranks in previous years, so he has plenty of motivation to prove his fantastic feats on the field were no fluke.
“Kaelin Clay got here right before two-a-days and started from square one,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “When the ball’s in his hands, he’s dangerous.”
We also learned that, once again, Utah’s defense should be solid, even if not necessarily impenetrable. Nate Orchard could prove to be the next great defensive lineman. However, there were times when the Utes had a tough time stopping the run (the Bengals finished with 179 rushing yards and averaged 4.1 yards per attempt).
“Our run defense . . . irk(ed) me the most,” Whittingham said. “We’ve addressed it … Guys not in right gaps, missed assignments, etc.”
It will also be interesting to see how Utah’s cornerbacks fare against the faster and more athletic receivers in the Pac-12.
The biggest takeaway lesson from last week was that the Utes are fully capable of dominating an FCS team. Similarly, the biggest question lingering after last week is how Utah will stack up against the FBS teams remaining on the schedule and, in particular, the Pac-12.
Another lingering mystery is how the quarterback carousel is going to eventually play out.
While Travis Wilson started the game and played the first half, he was only solid without being spectacular. The receivers and running backs had more to do with the Utes’ success on offense than the quarterbacks. Wilson did have a rushing touchdown, but that was because he overlooked a wide-open receiver on the other side of the field at the beginning of the play, and instead he tucked the ball and made a run for it himself. If Wilson is going to be successful this year, he has to be better at going through his progressions in finding an open receiver and keeping passing plays alive by sliding in the pocket and buying time. instead of rashly tucking the ball and running at the first sign of pressure.
Similar to Wilson, Kendal Thompson did not really distinguish himself during his time under center in the second half. It certainly did not help that Thompson was sacked three times in his first four plays on the field. He did bounce back and kept the next play alive with some good footwork that resulted in a 25-yard pass to tight end Westlee Tonga.
Brandon Cox was actually the most exciting Ute quarterback to watch, including an impressive 16-yard run for a touchdown.
I will be the first to admit that I may not necessarily be giving Travis Wilson a fair shake. Come on admit it, the new girl in class always seems hotter than the same old girls you’ve gone to school with for years. You know, the old “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” adage? Maybe I’m just intrigued by the novelty of having either Kendal Thompson or Brandon Cox running the offense because I’m tired of watching Wilson. Hmm, maybe that’s why Kyle Whittingham keeps hiring new offensive coordinators.
Nevertheless, I’m still waiting for Wilson to prove me wrong. You can add that to an already pretty long list of things I’m waiting for, like the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes Prize Patrol to knock on my door. Aren’t we all waiting for something? Just like Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. “What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in the immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.”
Similar to Vladimir and Estragon’s devout wait for Godot to arrive, I will continue to wait for the Utes to return to their glory years in football, and all the while “blaming on [my] boots the faults of [my] feet.”
This week, Utah takes on Fresno State. Fresno was downright abused by USC last week in a lopsided 52-13 outing. I would truly love to see a repeat performance this week in Salt Lake City.
Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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