Escape. That was the plan. The Utes escaped Colorado Springs with a victory in a game that they were outplayed by Air Force and are now on to TCU. Air Force had more rushing yards than the Utes (not a surprise), but did it on less carries (surprise). The Falcons even had more passing yards than the Utes (huge surprise), and did it with ten less throws (huh?).
The running game was there for the Utes and Matt Asiata again proved his worth as the better back between he and Eddie Wide with the more consistent running, but the lack of the long run plagued the Utes again with Wide's 13 yarder being the best of the day. The fact that they didn't break any longs ones did help the Utes control the clock with long drives an win the ever important time of possession battle by 12 minutes. I called for a steady dose of running, but the lack of creativity to the run game was apparent and hurt the Utes at times.
Jordan Wynn wasn't bad, but he wasn't very good either. Average is the best word to describe his play on Saturday. 15 of 23 for 148 yards isn't terrible, but 59 of those yards came on two passes. Take that away and he had 89 yards on 13 completions. The lack of the deep ball was glaring as too many passes were short throws, primarily to Jereme Brooks. Not all of that is on Wynn though, as Aaron Roderick has to take some of the blame for the vanilla play calling. Jordan did throw an interception, possibly his ugliest of the year, where his receiver was well covered (by two guys) and he put the ball right into the hands of the Air Force DB. Having followed up two big games with two mediocre games over the last four, Wynn is still looking for that game to game consistency that guys like Andy Dalton have. The good news is that he's due for a big game against TCU.
Not having DeVonte Christopher for the game turned out to be a huge factor in the Utes' struggles in the passing game, eliminating their best deep threat. Jordan Wynn rarely looked to throw deep against the solid Air Force secondary, choosing instead to hit Jereme Brooks in the flat time and time again for 5-7 yards.
Sealver Siliga and Dave Kruger were the difference. Sealver had the play of the game on Air Force's fourth down try in the final minutes, blowing past their center on the snap and getting to Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson almost immediately and blowing up the play. Kruger and Siliga destroyed the interior of the Air Force offensive line (when they weren't being taken out by cheap cut blocks) and gave the linebackers, safeties, and defensive ends multiple opportunities for tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Where were the safeties? Brian Blechen was a big hitter out there and had quite a few tackles and big plays, but he was often out of position, over-pursued, took the wrong man, or was completely lost. The long touchdown run by Jefferson is squarely on his shoulders. Where was he? Justin Taplin-Ross also missed a few tackles and wasn't in the right spot at times and Greg Bird looked lost as well for parts of the game. He did have a few big pays though. This needs to be better against TCU.
For every 2 yard gain for Air Force there was another 15 yarder. The Utes lacked consistency in holding down both the Air Force running and passing games and were prone to the big play. Holding Air Force well under their rushing average would have been more impressive if they hadn't given up so many yards through the air. I'm going to put a lot of this on Kalani Sitake and the play calling. Some of the formations the Utes were in were baffling at times, leaving the them vulnerable to the big play. Leaving a true freshman in Brian Blechen as your safety valve with everyone else crowding the line of scrimmage is a recipe for disaster.
Was it five takeways by Utah or five giveaways by Air Force? For a team that prides itself on discipline and protecting the ball (see the +22 turnover margin in 2009), they sure didn't do that on Saturday. I'll give credit to the Utah defense for the strips, leading to fumbles, and the timely interceptions, but Air Force was sloppy with the ball.
The Utes only forced one punt all day, taking the ball out of the hands of Shaky Smithson in the return game. He's a weapon that you'll need to setup field position against TCU.
Once Joe Phillips missed his first field goal of the season. I was convinced that Air Force was going to come down and score. As much as things seemed to be going Utah's way with all of the forced turnovers, they really weren't, and it felt like one of those days where a few bad breaks spell the end of a dream season.
Was this the Utah that we're going to see on Saturday against TCU? No. The Utes are much better than they performed on Saturday. Chalk it up to a good opponent in Air Force that is very difficult to play for 60 minutes, on the road, without one of the Utes' better playmakers. Teams need four weeks to prepare to play a team like the Falcons that run the triple option. Give Utah another week or two and they win that game by three touchdowns. But that's not how the college football works, and having only one week to prepare for an offense unlike any you've seen or will see all year is not easy. Especially when you have 7 new starters on defense that haven't seen much (or any) of Air Force in person.
A significantly better performance is going to be needed on Sunday if the Utes want to have a chance against arguably the most balanced team in the nation in TCU. Better play calling on both sides of the ball is going to be needed. Better execution and preparation. Everything has to be better or Saturday could get ugly.
The reality of it all is that the Utes had their ‘bad game' of the year and still won. On the road. Against an upper-tier conference opponent. It may not have been sexy, but Kyle Whittingham and staff will take it.
Utes Barely Escape Against Air Force
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