Inside Utah's 5-0 start: Is it unsustainable?

What are the key ingredients to Utah's 5-0 start and No. 4 ranking and just how sustainable is that over the course of a longer stretch of games? We examine the five key things that have enabled the Utes' strong start in this segment.

1. Utah is plus 10 in turnover margin through five games which is leading the Pac-12 in what is likely the most predictive statistic to wins and losses in football. Utah's per-game positive 2.0 advantage over opponents is unprecedented in recent conference history. Oregon's plus-1.62 rate in 2012 (plus-21 overall) is the best any team has done in the last five years in the league and Utah is on a pace to well exceed that. It currently has generated 17 takeaways -- more than three per game -- which is second most in the Pac-12, including five interceptions of talented Cal junior quarterback Jared Goff last week in Salt Lake City. In the last five years, Utah has been plus-five (2014), minus-9 (2013),  and plus-4 (2012). Will it be able to maintain this rate or is it the outlier it appears to be through five games? 

2. The red zone efficiency of the Utes has been exceptional in 2015. Utah has scored on 20 of 21 possessions in the red zone this season including 7 of 7 on field goal attempts. Its 13 touchdowns isn't a great rate as a percentage of its overall trips, but it has come away with points every single time it's been inside the opponent's 20 with the exception of once, when Utah's Travis Wilson was intercepted. The 95.2 percent overall conversion rate is far better than anything it has done in recent years, as Utah was at 84.4 percent last year, 83.3 percent in 2013, 77.5 percent in 2012 and Utah 81.0 percent in 2011. The only team that has finished better than Utah's current 2015 success rate is Stanford when it converted 97.1 percent in 2011 with Andrew Luck as its quarterback. Is this red zone efficiency rate sustainable or is Utah due to trip up in scoring territory more frequently in coming weeks? 

3. Senior quarterback Travis Wilson has learned the hard way through experience how to be effective at this level and is now performing very effectively. He had 16 interceptions two years ago as a sophomore and last season just five interceptions in 11 starts and three this year through five games. Even though Wilson is only No. 108 in passing yards per game this season, his Quarterback Rating is No. 8 at 82.5, which is dramatically better than last year when it was 64.7 with a 18-5 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. But Wilson's quarterback rating against Cal last week was just 25. His production plummeted against a good opponent. Now, with four returning offensive line starters from a year ago, Utah has done an incredible job of protecting Wilson and that's been a huge factor in his success. He's only been sacked twice in five games, which is better than any other team in the Pac-12. If you remember, ASU was sacked nine times against Texas A&M and has been 16 times total this season. Wilson has great elusiveness at 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds, is someone who really runs well and can scramble.  But ASU has been successful against Wilson. It had four sacks on him last year and three the year before. Last season he completed 12 of 22 pass attempts against ASU for just 57 yards. Is he due for a bad game? Is he over-performing expectations? 

4. Utah star running back Devontae Booker has been reliable workhorse this season as was the case last year. He's average 133 yards per game which is second in the league and it results in the Utes having a lot of manageable second and third downs, which they run for successfully at a better rate than anyone in the league. But Booker's 4.8 yards per carry is worse than every team in the Pac-12's top running back and outside the Top-15 overall. Part of the reason for this is because he averages 28 carries per game, which is seven more carries per game than the next closest back. Last season Booker had 146 yards against ASU but it took an incredible 37 carries to get there (3.9 yards per game). Similar unbalance probably won't put Utah in great shape to win the game unless ASU falls in line with other Utah opponents in the turnover category but Utah's rock solid reliability of Booker has been a huge factor in its early season success. 

5. Utah probably has the best special teams in the Pac-12 and that is a major contributor to its overall success and fits very well with its overall philosophical approach. Tom Hackett is averaging a league-best 48.4 yards per punt and does a great job of rugby directiona punting. Last year he had a 47.1 yard average on eight punts against ASU and in 2013 he was one of the game's bigges factors with nine puts for a 50.6 yard average with a long of 70 including three inside the 20. On field goals Andy Phillips was first-team all-league last year and though he's made just 8 of 11 this season, his three misses are all longer than 40 yards. Utah is also very good with its return game and coverage units and this is reliable strength, not an aspect of the team that is outperforming expectations. 


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