This was the bounce back game the Utes needed. The first quarter was a bit sluggish (again), mostly on defense, but once that second quarter rolled around the Utes got rolling (again).
Jordan Wynn was magnificent as the coaching staff drew up the game plan that I begged for all week. The short conservative throws they came out with and used heavily throughout much of the first half did three things: helped (re)build Jordan's confidence, got Jereme Brooks more involved, and opened up the running game towards the end of the first half and into the second half.
Despite putting in only 2 and a half quarters (again), Wynn still had 319 yards on 23 of 29 passes with 3 touchdowns, numbers comparable to what he did two weeks ago against Iowa State which earned him MWC offensive player of the week honors. He looked a lot like Terrance Cain with his many short, high-percentage throws, especially to open the game. The difference between Wynn and Cain is the quality of the throw, as best evidenced by DeVonte Christopher's short slant route on a blitz that he took 71 yards to the end zone. Wynn threw a dart that hit Christopher in stride. Cain wouldn't have made that same pass, likely floating the ball in there, giving the defender a chance to make a play.
What else can we say about DeVonte Christopher? He's firmly established that he's the number 2 receiver on this team with another great game grabbing 5 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. Keep this up and he may push for All Mountain West honors. Jereme Brooks went big, and as I again predicted, did his damage in the first half with 5 catches for 48 yards, mostly on catches over the middle. Finishing with 7 catches for 61 yards, Brooks proved once again that teams still need to gameplan for him, despite two down weeks the last two games.
It's official. Shaky Smithson is the most electrifying player in the country, and the most fun to watch. He had his best receiving game of the year with 5 catches for 72 yards and a touchdown on a jump ball in the end zone that he did a tremendous job of coming back to and fighting for. His 32 yard catch in run in the fourth quarter where he ran all the way across the field and almost took to the end zone was one of the most fun plays I've seen. Generally the press box is a pretty quiet place, but the media burst into laughter watching Shaky high-stepping down the sidelines. He's a blast to watch.
The heavy dose of Matt Asiata running up the middle never took its course as Aaron Roderick only got the ball to their big back seven times on the ground for 39 yards. Eddie Wide started out slowly, but really got things going with 71 yards on nine carries. Most of those did come on back to back runs of 15 and 36 yards in the third quarter, but it signaled the end of the long run drought for the two main backs when Wide took the 36 yarder to the house on a great run that included some tremendous downfield blocking.
The offensive line didn't have its best overall game, allowing Colorado State to get to Wynn a few times. They also picked up a few penalties and didn't do a tremendous job in the run game allowing Colorado State to set the line of scrimmage often in the first half. John Cullen was noticeably slow in pulling more than once, letting tacklers get to Wide and Asiata sooner than they've had to deal with in the past few games.
Things changed later in the first half and into the second half as Eddie Wide broke his back-to-back big runs and Matt Asiata threw in a fifteen yarder of his own. The final total of 221 rushing yards is somewhat misleading as 72 of those came off of Sausan Shakerin's touchdown scamper with just over a minute to play in the game.
If the Utes want to beat TCU, the offensive line needs to be better throughout the game than they were against Colorado State and their offensive line.
Defensively things weren't pretty early as Utah looked out of position on multiple plays in the secondary throughout the first half as Pete Thomas completed 12 of 19 passes for 142 yards. If he hadn't missed a couple of open receivers with poor throws, including two in the end zone, things could have been much worse. Lamar Chapman, Brandon Burton and Conroy Black were noticeably frustrated with the separation the Colorado State receivers were getting in the first half.
They did buckle down though as CSU moved down the field with their bend and don't break defense in holding the Rams to two field goals. Lamar Chapman was again devastating on the blitz getting another sack and forcing a fumble. Justin Taplin-Ross was equally efficient laying a few big hits and getting a sack. Brian Blechen continues to get the praise, but Tap-Tap continues to be the better safety.
As I predicted in the game preview, Chaz Walker was the best linebacker of the game racking up a team high eight tackles and doing a good job of dropping into coverage when needed. Despite a few moderate gains by Colorado State, the Utes held them to multiple 1 yard and zero yard gains in giving up only 28 yards on 24 carries. Matt Martinez had 7 tackles and one tackle for loss and Chad Manis added six tackles.
The defensive line was again stout, despite their slow start. Even in blitzing situations, no one was able to get any pressure on Pete Thomas. Once the Rams were down a significant amount and forced to pass in an attempt to come back, the defensive lineman were able to pin their ears back and worry solely about getting to the quarterback. Derrick Shelby and Christian Cox were both tremendous as both picked up sacks. Shelby was a monster throughout the second half and nearly unblockable in forcing a fumble and getting constant pressure. He looks fully healed and looks now to be living up to the praise I heaped on him before the season. Reserve end Tevita Finau has made a great impression in the last two games and only adds more depth to the deepest line in the country. He'll compete for a starting spot next season.
The defensive tackles were stout again in making the linebackers look like all conference players. Sealver Siliga was the only lineman that got any kind of pressure for most of the first half. Dave Kruger did a tremendous job again of taking up multiple blockers on more than one occasion. Latu Heimuli and Star Lotulelei were both stellar in reserve roles as well.
Special teams weren't great in the return game, but the Utes kickoff coverage did a great job of keeping Derek Good in check. Good came into the game leading the nation in kickoff return average. The Utes are going to need a similar performance in two weeks when they go up against Jeremy Kerley of TCU.
The onside kick recovery worked perfectly and was a great call, but it's always a great call when it works. I asked Coach Whitt about it after the game and he said they wanted to open the game with it, but decided to wait until the second quarter and was executed perfectly by Joe Phillips and his blockers. Whitt gave Jay Hill the credit for seeing an opening on film with the Rams ‘cheating' and leaving a split second early to block on kickoffs. Another reason why this is one of the best coaching staffs in the country.
Things are going well right now for Utah in all facets of the game and there's no reason to think Air Force is going to slow them down. Kyle Whittingham remarked that the Utes are playing their best football of the season right now. I've been saying it for a few weeks now...this is one of the top 5 TEAMS in the country. They are as well prepared and work as one unit as well as any team I've seen in the country. If they had the same talent as a USC, Oklahoma, or Ohio State, this would be an all-time-esque team in the realm of the '95 Nebraska team, '01 Miami, or '72 USC teams. Instead they're a group of hardworking, intelligent, football players that buy into what their coaches are teaching, and are all working towards the same goal.
Each week I'm astounded as to how good this team is on the field with some of the holes in talent they have. None of the three starting linebackers is going to sniff the NFL. Jereme Brooks isn't playing on Sundays next year. Eddie Wide isn't likely to be drafted. Shaky Smithson is going to have to make it as a return man. There are only three sure-fire NFL players on the roster right now in Zane Taylor, Caleb Schlauderaff, and Brandon Burton. Matt Asiata should be in the league, but has battled injuries, which will surely hurt his stock. Younger players like Devonte Christopher, Brian Blechen, Sealver Siliga, Derrick Shelby, and Tevita Stevens are likely headed towards NFL careers, but are mostly overachievers at this point who have developed in the Utah system. That's a credit to the coaching staff for finding players that fit their system and they feel they can develop into very good players. Not many coaching staffs in the country do a better job of it.
This is the year. The time is now. Utah is as good as any team in the country and I'd be very comfortable taking them in one game on a neutral against any team out there, save Boise State and Oregon, and yet I may still pick the Utes over the Broncos or Ducks. In this last season in the Mountain West, Kyle Whittingham has his team right where they need to be to make history and become the first non-BCS team to take home the BCS National Championship. What a great way to end an era before moving in with the big boys of the Pac 12.
Utah Goes Big Again in Destroying Colorado St
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