Utah is in a lot of trouble, plain and simple. Yesterday's performance against Cal was the worst the Utes have looked offensively since 2007 when the team was embarrassed by UNLV 27-0. Turnovers, penalties, and an inability to put together any type of offensive consistency combined to make Saturday the worst offensive performance I've seen during the Kyle Whittingham era. In the loss, old issues represented themselves and new problems were discovered. And by the look of things, Utah is a long way from solving those problems.
I haven't seen anything out of Jon Hays in the last three and a half games that makes me believe he will pan out over the rest of the year. In fact, he's regressed in each game he's played and his performance against Cal was his worst yet. Typically in a situation like this the team would turn to its backup for a spark, but therein lies one of Utah's many problems. With the coaching staff committed to red-shirting Tyler Shreve, Utah has nowhere to turn. Whittingham gave backup Griff Robles, Utah's only other quarterback on the roster, a series to show if he could fare any better than Hays. Robles only pass on the drive was a throw to the sideline that was woefully short of his intended receiver. After spending the first 4 games of the season practicing at linebacker, it's clear Robles isn't ready to lead the offense.
So the situation for Utah is this: Hays is the guy, and he will be the guy for the rest of the season. Like it or hate it, it's not going to change. He's not skilled enough to be a consistent winner in the Pac-12 and will probably struggle in every game left on the schedule. The Utes will go wherever he takes them. There are no gimme's, no lock-solid wins left this year. Knowing Hays will be under center, barring injury, for the remainder of the season means every game will be a battle. After what the Utes showed in San Francisco on Saturday, reaching a bowl game is now very nearly out of question and a 5-7 finish could be a stretch.
That's not to say The Utes have no hope. The schedule is about as ‘easy' as it could be with games against Oregon State (2-5), Arizona (2-5), UCLA (3-4), Washington State (3-4), and Colorado (1-7). But major improvements will need to be made before Utah wins another game. Penalties were once again a problem for Utah against Cal. Drives early in the game were killed because of dumb mistakes that have been a problem for the team for about five straight weeks now. Turnovers also played a major part in the loss. Hays threw three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, and lost a fumble as well. There aren't many teams in the NCAA, let alone the Pac-12, that can turn the ball over four times and win. It goes without saying that Utah is not one of those teams.
John White continued his up-and-down 2011 campaign. After rushing for 171 yards against Pittsburgh a week ago he was held to just 39 yards against Cal. The offensive line didn't help him much either as they struggled to get any kind of push at the line in the run game and allowed way too much pressure on Hays in the backfield. White scored the only offensive touchdown of the game for the Utes, but it came late in the fourth quarter against Cal's reserves.
The defense is very clearly suffering from a lack of offense generated on the other side of the ball. They started the game very strong against Cal but short offensive series and quick turnarounds put them back on the field after very little rest. By the start of the second quarter you could tell they were frustrated and a little worn down. They are still the strength of the team, and Saturday's performance isn't indicative of their ability, but if the offense continues to turn the ball over and doesn't generate longer drives we'll continue to see more lopsided scores. The team will need to lean on them if they're going to win any of the upcoming games on the schedule.
Going forward, the outlook is bleak. After what we've seen from Hays so far and knowing he'll be the leader for the rest of the year it's hard to get excited about what's to come. If the offense were going to get better I believe we would have seen some improvement by now. But after three weeks of Hays at the helm they only seem to be getting worse. If the offense continues to perform the way they have over the last three weeks then the downward spiral will get worse, and the inaugural season in the Pac-12 will be, if it isn't already, a season to forget.
Game Wrap-Up - Utah at Cal
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