Game Review - Oregon State at Utah

Utes turn special performances from John White and their defense into the program's first-ever Pac-12 conference win

Before the game Saturday, many questioned whether Utah could beat Oregon State. It looks like the Beavers were just what the Utes needed.

Utah continued their up-and-down 2011 campaign with a very ‘up' performance against the Oregon State Beavers. The running game was clicking all night, the offensive line looked as good as it has since losing Jordan Wynn, Jon Hays made some terrific throws and the defense was lights-out.

Add all of that up and you've got Utah's best all-around performance since week three against BYU.

Saturday's win started and ended with John White and the offensive line. Saying they looked terrible last week at Cal is an extreme understatement, so it was nice to see them bounce back the way they did. Missing were the penalties and mistakes that have slowed this group down in the past, instead they were replaced with strength, determination and a consistent push that allowed White to reach the second level throughout the night.

Oregon State entered the game with a battered group of linebackers missing two starters to injury. These injuries turned out to be key because when White got past the defending front-four he was able to make the replacement linebackers pay. White rushed for 150 yards in the first half and finished with 205 and a touchdown, easily his most productive effort of the season.

The blueprint to slowing Utah has been made pretty clear – stop the run and you stop the Utes. The run game has been on an every-other-week pattern where they'll blow up one game and disappear the next. I'm not sure what the cause is, maybe 30-plus attempts is too much for White to handle each and every week, but if he and the line can somehow figure out the magic they had last night and have showed in other games this season then this team will have a much better shot at a bowl game by seasons-end. Obviously Oregon State's decision not to consistently load the box with eight or nine defenders helped and the Utes can probably count on never seeing that type of defensive approach again this year, but hard running and determined blocking will always get you somewhere. The Utes will need this type of attitude going forward if it hopes to see more ground game success.

Jon Hays put together the best start of his young career as Utah's starting quarterback and I'm not talking about his final numbers. 6 completions on 14 attempts is hardly an impressive showing, but still there seemed to be a different attitude coming from Hays and his passes, especially his touchdowns, reflected that new attitude. Hays was patient but didn't let his past interceptions scare him away from making tough throws. Hays finished the game with two very nice touchdown passes and no interceptions. For all of the adversity he has faced this season it was nice to see him perform well in a winning effort.

The Ute linebackers showed well once again finishing the game with a combined 29 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and an interception by Matt Martinez. They put continuous pressure on quarterback Sean Mannion and absolutely dominated the middle of the field against both the run and the pass. Even on the outside, typically a weakness for the Utah linebackers, they were able to contain the outside run game and helped well on quick screens and wide receiver fly-sweeps.

Mo Lee is once again proving why Kyle Whittingham and his staff are some of the smartest coaches in the country. His move from wide receiver to corner over the summer was questioned by some initially but is paying major dividends at this point in the year. His instincts and ball skills on the field are outstanding and his ability to stop and break on a pass may be the best on the team. Not enough can be said about Conroy Black and Ryan Lacy either. Black had the very difficult task of defending Markus Wheaton and he did a fantastic job of keeping him in check. Lacy made plays all over the field against many different receivers and his awareness to make the interception off of the tip by Brian Blechen showed why even though he makes occasional mistakes he is still a very valuable tool to have on the field.

Freshman safety Eric Rowe is growing up before our eyes. As just a freshman he's playing with the skills of a more seasoned sophomore or junior and has an excellent future ahead of him.

There weren't a lot of negatives for the Utes in the win. Fans will point to the unproductive second-half offense and lack of first downs as a problem, but that can be attributed to a couple of things. With a 24-point lead at the start of the second half and the defense playing as well as they were the smart move for Utah was to run the ball as much as possible. Remember, John White had over 150 yards in the first half and was absolutely gashing the Beaver defense. There was no need for Utah to risk turning the ball over through the air, something they've been very good at over the last month, when they believed they could control the second half on the ground and rely on the defense to seal the win.

The losses of Latu Heimuli and J.J. Williams for the season are two very painful losses for the Utes. Heimuli was just coming into form on the offensive line after being move from defensive tackle in the fall, while JJ Williams' injury hurts a linebacker corps that just lost Boo Anderson for the year last week. Depth at both position now comes into question (it never wasn't a question on the offensive line) as the Utes can ill afford to lose another member of either group.

Going forward you have to like the Utes chances to make a bowl game after what they showed Saturday. It's not just the win that has inspired confidence but the all around effort from the entire team that now has Ute fans believing a bowl game is once again in their future. Ute fans are hoping their streak of eight-straight bowl appearance doesn't die this season and with no powerhouse left on the schedule the Utes are surely set up for success over their final four games. If the Utes can take care of business at home against UCLA and Colorado they'll be bowl eligible and any additional wins will just improve their ultimate bowl destination.


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