College Football: Utah Utes 2016 Mid-Season Review
By James Buckley/FanSided via Hoyos Revenge
As you can see, it’s been quite some time since this lovely site has been updated consistently with Utah Utes coverage. The good news is that is changing!
Real quick (since I haven’t said anything yet): My name is James Buckley and i’ve been brought on to be the expert of Hoyo’s Revenge. It’ll be a process, but I believe this site will become one of the best sources for Ute material out there.
Now. To the real reason you’re here: Utah Utes coverage! We’re smack in the middle of football season, and the Utes have performed decently up to this point. Through 7 games their record is 6-1, and they currently sit at #19 in the AP Poll.
Now, I know there are 12 games in the regular college football season. But considering the Utes are bowl-eligible already, they’ll have at least 13 games, which means 7 games is just BARELY over halfway. The math works.
Quick note: I KNOW the Utes have injuries. Lots and lots of injuries. There have been enough significant injuries that I decided to leave them out altogether and put them all in detail in a different post coming soon. I didn’t forget, I promise.
Lets jump right into what has happened for the Utes up to this point. (There is a bit more of a focus on the conference games we’ve had so far, as winning the Pac-12 is the main objective at the moment for this Utes team)
Game 1: Southern Utah University @ Utah
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
The Utes opened the season, with fans expectations & hopes swirling, against a tough SUU team.
For SUU, the FCS program came into the game with hopes of providing a huge upset for the young college football season.
For Utah, this game provided our first look at the new offense led by QB Troy Williams, and for the most part, gave promising results.
The offense scored 24 points and was led by two touchdown passes from Williams. Senior receiver Tim Patrick, who was on the other end of those two scores, led the team with 5 catches for 105 yards.
On the other side of the ball, the defense shut SUU out, while holding them to just 158 yards of total offense.
Result: Utah prevails by a score of 24-0 (1-0)
What it meant:
Utah opened the season exactly the way they should have, beating up on an opponent praying for an upset.
The offense provided a glimpse at something Ute fans haven’t seen in a long time: a passing offense! Thinking back, I can’t remember having faith in a QB throwing the ball since Brian Johnson in 2008. After one game, I trusted Williams arm more than anyone else in the last 8 years.
Game 2: BYU @ Utah
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
The game all Utah fans look forward to. The Cougars came into Rice-Eccles looking to avenge last season’s Vegas Bowl loss.
My oh my, this was a sloppy game on both sides.
Both teams decided to be kind and give the ball away often. There were 9 turnovers total, with the Utes losing 6 to BYUs 3.
QB Troy Williams was a bit shakier than in week 1. He finished with 194 passing yards and one TD pass. The problem was he that also threw 3 interceptions, including one from the BYU 4 yard line.
After going back and forth for much of the game, the Utes were ahead 20-13 after an Andy Phillips field goal. BYU quarterback Taysom Hill scored on a 7-yard touchdown run with 18 seconds left. This had BYU in prime position to force OT.
Rookie head coach Kalani Sitake had other plans, however. He sent his offense back onto the field, going for the two-point conversation and the win.
This time, the Utes were ready and stuffed Hill at the goal line, escaping with a 20-19 win,
Result: Utah escapes 20-19 (2-0)
What it meant:
The Utes got a huge win over their in-state rival, keeping the bragging rights for at least another year. Starting 2-0 while giving the new players on both sides of the ball time to get comfortable to Utah’s system is definitely a positive.
The turnovers were definitely concerning, as coach Whittingham prides himself on his teams winning the turnover battle. Coming into a game this important would cause extra jitters for anyone, and the Utes have done a much better job since this game.
The biggest surprise came after the game, when starting RB Joe Williams made the decision to retire from college football. Williams backups, freshman Zack Moss and sophomore Armand Shyne both looked competent against BYU, which provided hope that the offense would be able to stay two-dimensional.
Game 3: Utah Utes @ San Jose State Spartans
Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
The Utes rolled into CEFCU Stadium coming off an emotional victory, hoping to avoid a trap game against a weaker San Jose State team.
The first quarter was a low-key, as each team only managed a field goal or two. Five minutes into the 2nd quarter, the Spartans scored the game’s first TD on a 1-yard pass. SJSU went up 10-6, and that would prove to be their last score until 3 minutes left in the game.
The Utes went on a tear, having both the offense and defense wake up simultaneously. The defense wound up with 10 sacks and 3 forced turnovers. The offense also found balance with touchdown runs from Troy McCormick, Zack Moss and Armand Shyne, and a touchdown pass from Williams to Tim Patrick.
The Utes proved to be too much in the end, but the Spartans closed out Utah’s non-conference schedule by providing a wake-up call and showed that they had to be more mentally ready right from kickoff.
Result: Utah triumphs 34-17 (3-0)
What it meant:
Just like against SUU, the Utes handled their business. The defense took a bit to get going (a trend this season) but after the first quarter and a half, they got going and shut down everything the Spartans wanted to do.
The running back by committee approach couldn’t have worked better, as McCormick, Moss and Shyne all found the endzone. All showing potential, each player showed a different skill set that could be helpful in the long run.
The Utes moved up to #24 in the AP Poll after this game, entering the rankings for the first time all season.
Game 4: USC Trojans @ #24 Utah Utes
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The perennial powerhouse from Southern California came to town looking to right the ship on their season. At 1-2, the Trojans turned to Sam Darnold at QB hoping that he could jumpstart the season.
The Utes started strong, with Troy Williams leading a 12-play opening drive, resulting in a 10 yard touchdown run. On the ensuing kickoff however, Adoree’ Jackson returned it 100 yards to the house for a touchdown.
The Trojans then took advantage of a sputtered Utah defense, and scored on a touchdown run from Justin Davis. After USC tacked on a field goal, the Utes found themselves in a 17-10 hole going into the break.
In the 3rd quarter, Darnold added another touchdown run to push the USC lead to 24-10, dousing many Utah fans hopes of winning the conference opener.
At this point, the resilient Utes decided to step up. Troy Williams led a 85-yard drive, going 4-5 passing for 63 yards. This drive resulted in a fumble recovery by lineman Isaac Asiata in the endzone for a touchdown.
After a USC field goal to open the 4th quarter, the Utes went on another long drive. This drive resulted in a touchdown catch by WR Raelon Singleton to bring the Utes within three at 27-24.
With 5:37 in the 4th, following a USC punt, the Utes were ready to tie or win the game starting from their own 7-yard line.
The following drive was one of the best of the season for this Utah team. Led by Troy Williams, the Utes marched down the field while winding down the clock, ending with a 18 yard TD pass from Troy Williams to Tim Patrick with 16 seconds left.
Result: Utah wins 31-27 (4-0, 1-0 Conf)
What it meant:
At the moment, this game is my favorite Ute game of the season, Seeing the resiliency that the team showed down two touchdowns gave me hope for the rest of the season (and of course, who doesn’t love game-winning 93-yard drives?)
This is the game where I felt like Troy Williams finally stepped up and showed that he was the leader of the offense. The defense got the necessary stops, and Williams made sure to put the game away.
After beating a big name opponent like USC, the Utes moved farther up the rankings, to #18 in the AP Poll.
Game 5: #18 Utah Utes @ California Golden Bears
Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Coming into this game, it looked to be a battle of a quick-striking offense, against a grinding offense who prefers to eat clock… and that’s exactly what we saw.
On Cal’s first drive, they scored on a 40 yard touchdown pass in just 1:20 of gametime… Whoops. After trading punts in ensuing possessions, Cal scored AGAIN on a drive that took 1:33.. This time the touchdown pass went for only 39 yards. So hey, progress! But the Utes were down 14-0 QUICKLY.
The good news is that the scoring toned down quickly afterwards. The Utes offense took chunks out of the clock, and the defense woke up in time to slow the Cal offense.
Armand Shyne scored a touchdown in both the 2nd and 3rd quarter, and Andy Phillips added a field goal in the 2nd. The Utes held a 17-14 lead until Cal struck again with 1:24 left in the 3rd, with a 24-yard touchdown pass.
The Utes next drive stalled, and within the first 5 minutes of the 4th quarter, the Bears scored again on a, you guessed it, 56-yard touchdown pass… Obviously this definitely wasn’t the BEST day for the Utes secondary.
Zack Moss managed to get in the endzone with 6 minutes left, but the Utes missed on the following 2-point conversation. With the score at 28-23, the Utes managed to stop the Golden Bears and got the ball back with 4:21 left.
The Utes got all the way to 1st and Goal from the Cal 2 yard line, with 8 seconds left, but were unable to punch it in before time expired.
Result: Utah loses a close one 28-23 (4-1, 1-1 Conf)
What it meant:
The loss marked the first (and currently the only) loss of the season for the Utes. Once again, the defense took a quarter or so to wake up and look as dominant as they should.
With a perfect season out of the question, the public focus has shifted to potentially winning the Pac-12 South and having an outside shot at still making it into the College Football Playoff.
The loss knocked Utah back in the AP Poll, but not out. Landing back at #24, the Utes barely held onto a ranking.
Game 6: Arizona Wildcats @ #24 Utah Utes
Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
There were questions everywhere coming into this game. Who would start at QB for Arizona? How would the Utes handle a team who had their number the last few years? How would the Utes bounce back from their first loss of the season?
Once again, the Utes defense started slowly, allowing a 75-yard touchdown pass from QB Brandon Dawkins on the first play from scrimmage.
After a Andy Phillips field goal, Dawkins found the endzone again to give Arizona a 14-3 lead with 8 minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter. Another game, another deficit for the Utes to climb out of.
The Utes started to get back on track when the defense forced a safety in the Wildcats endzone. This was immediately followed by a Williams TD pass to Tyrone Smith to close the half.
Apparently going into halftime with a 14-12 score instead of 14-3 makes a difference, because the 3rd quarter belonged to Utah. The Utes got two touchdowns on the board thanks to run-ins from Troy Williams and Armand Shyne.
After yet another Phillips field goal, the Utes were suddenly in control 29-14. The 4th provided little drama, as the outcome was never in doubt.
An Arizona field goal was followed by another Troy Williams rushing touchdown, moving the score to 36-17. A touchdown pass from backup QB Khalil Tate provided a late spark, but after a failed two point conversion the scoring and the game were basically finished.
Result: Utah triumphs 36-23 (5-1, 2-1 Conf)
What it meant:
Continuing on with the trend, it took about a quarter and a half for this team to wake itself up to play the way we know they can. When the offense and defense are clicking at the same time, this team has the potential to be one of the best in the country.
This team has said all year that they have high hopes and expectations for themselves. They’ve shown in flashes both the skill and potential to be a contender, but the inconsistency drags them down far too often.
Moving up to #21 after this game, the Utes are slowly but surely getting better and working out a few kinks along the way. Once they put together a complete game, for 60 minutes straight, my faith in them will skyrocket.
Game 7: #21 Utah Utes @ Oregon State Beavers
Mandatory Credit: Cole Elsasser-USA TODAY Sports
The build up to this game was built around the Utes injury woes, and the a storm washing all of Oregon away. (Ok maybe not ALL of Oregon.. Just most of it.)
I wrote a recap of the game here, but I’ll hit a few of the main points real quick.
Joe Williams un-retired! (that’s not a word, but we’re going to act like it is) Williams came back and ended up rushing for 179 yards on 34 attempts.
The weather made this game really really ugly. Both teams combined for 13/43 passing for a total of 142 yards. This game wasn’t fun for fans of the pass.
Good news: The defense didn’t allow any points until the beginning of the 3rd quarter… Whether that was an indication they’re getting off to better starts or just that OSU can’t play as well in the rain remains to be seen.
Result: Utah gets away with a 19-14 victory (6-1, 3-1 Conf)
What it meant:
Basically everything I mentioned above. Any and all passing looked miserable. The defense looked solid other than a late slip-up.
A win’s a win. They count the same no matter how it looked out on the field. With this win, the Utes became bowl-eligible for this season, where they are 9-1 under Whittingham.
The only problem with the performance is that this won’t cut it against the tough schedule coming up. Lets quickly look ahead at what is on its way.
Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Here at Hoyo’s Revenge, for the rest of the season we’ll have a deeper preview of each game the day before kickoff (Friday for Saturday games, Wednesday for the Thursday game). Here’s a very brief look ahead at the next 3 games.
Utah @ UCLA: October 22nd, 2 PM
The Utes are going into the Rose bowl looking to continue on their two game conference winning streak. At the time this is getting written, QB Josh Rosen status is unclear for Saturday which clouds up how this game will unfold.
This is a matchup of two of the top defenses in the Pac-12, and with a potential backup QB for UCLA don’t expect too many points in this one.
Washington @ Utah: October 29th, 1:30 PM
The matchup we’re all excited about. The 5th ranked Huskies come into Rice-Eccles looking to make a statement against this tough Utah team.
QB Jake Browning is a legitimate Heisman contender right now, and this Utah secondary will need to play its best game of the year to slow down the top scoring offense in the Pac-12.
Utah @ Arizona State: November 10th, 7:30 PM
This game matters in the race for the Pac-12 South. A lot of the attention is being paid to Colorado and Utah, as those two teams sit at the top currently.
Arizona State is a decent offensive team who has the firepower to stay in any game. This game could ALSO go a long way in determining how the Pac-12 South will play out.