Well the blueprint has been laid: give the ball to John White around 30 times per game, throw the ball occasionally – but effectively, play very stout defense, and don't turn the ball over. Rinse, and repeat.
On Saturday night in Rice-Eccles Stadium the UCLA Bruins failed where Arizona and Oregon State failed before them – they did not find a way to slow down an offense that is, well, already slow.
At this point opposing defenses know what's coming; it's just up to them to find a way to stop it. Opponents know Utah's offense the way it's currently constructed revolves around John White, John White, and more John White. Yet over the last three weeks nobody has been able to stop him.
White's last three rushing efforts have produced totals of 167, 109, and 205 yards and a combined 6 touchdowns – numbers that are made even more impressive when you consider he's doing it with limited quarterback play and defenses that are schemed to stop him. His play has revived an offense that was absolutely dead and has given hope to a team that had lost it just three short weeks ago.
Utah's win last night was more than just John White, however. Utah's defense once again played a remarkable game, which is something we've grown to expect from Kalani Sitake's group. The Utes limited their opponent on offense, caused multiple turnovers, and forced the Bruins to settle for field goals on the few extended drives that they were able to put together.
Eric Rowe needs to be singled out; his performance against UCLA was his best of an already impressive freshman season. Rowe played the safety position like a veteran. He covered the field well, made timely hits, disguised his blitzes and even sacked the quarterback. The youngster sent some twitter messages to former Ute safety Robert Johnson earlier in the week asking him for advice. On Saturday, Rowe looked as much like Johnson as I've ever seen. If he continues to develop the way he has, he has the potential to equal or even exceed what Johnson was able to do while playing at Utah, which is very high praise indeed.
The Utah defense held UCLA to 149 yards on the ground, over 40 yards below their season rushing average which was the key to the game as it was clear that the Bruin offense, much like Utah, was built around their ability to run the ball.
The Utes put together a great game plan that kept the Bruin running backs in check and forced quarterback Kevin Prince to be the difference maker. Prince threw two interceptions to corner Conroy Black, one of which was returned 67 yards for a touchdown and was the ultimate back-breaker early in the fourth quarter.
Ute quarterback John Hays had another restrained performance, something that Norm Chow chooses to do with a purpose. Hays isn't asked to throw often but has become better at taking advantage of his limited opportunities. No play in the game showed this more than his touchdown pass to John White in the third quarter. After two and a half quarters of pounding the ball with John White Hays finally took a shot downfield and connected with White in the endzone. The defense wasn't fooled on the play, and it was an extremely difficult throw to make, but Hays did an outstanding job of placing the ball where only his receiver could get it taking away any chance of a turnover on the play.
Hays is still clearly developing as a quarterback, but his progress has been notable throughout Utah's three-game win streak. Although he is only asked to throw the ball 15-20 times per game he's making much smarter decisions now than he was a month ago and is accepting his role as game-manager rather than trying to be a game-changer.
Utah's offensive line and wide receivers had a fantastic outing. While none made a play in the game that will make ESPN's Top-10 – except maybe tackle John Cullen carrying John White into the endzone, they continue to be deadly effective in their run blocking which is something that isn't going unnoticed. In the post-game press conference Coach Whittingham praised his wideouts and their downfield blocking saying it is one of the most important aspects of the current offense and its effectiveness. Without Devonte Christopher, Dres Anderson, Luke Matthews and others blocking the way they are on the outside John White would not be able to run the way he has.
While no new playmakers emerged in the win for the Utes, it became quite clear that the coaching staff was on its A-game against the Bruins. Utah was flagged just 4 times for 35 yards while UCLA tallied a whopping 12 penalties for 91 yards. Penalties such as too many men in the huddle, which the Bruins were caught with on multiple occasions, are the types of mistakes the Utah coaching staff does a great job of avoiding, which is just another reason why this limited Ute team has been able to succeed over the last three weeks.
Going forward, the Utes still have everything they want in front of them. Mathematically they are still alive in the South Division. They could have been eliminated last night if Arizona State would have taken care of business in Pullman, but that would have been too easy for the Sun Devils, right? Utah now faces the same test that Arizona State just failed and will need to be totally prepared if they plan on winning.
Washington State hasn't been a power in recent years by any means but they are a much improved team capable of hanging with, and beating, many of the better teams in this conference. Nothing about Saturday's game will be easy. The Cougars were down to their third string quarterback against the Devils and the youngster proceeded to throw for nearly 500 yards against a very talented ASU defense. The Utes should expect a battle from a team still in contention for a bowl berth playing at home against a team who has never travelled to Pullman, Washington in mid-November.
I wrote after the Cal game that the Utes would be lucky to win five games the way they were playing. I wouldn't have guessed at the time Utah would reel off three – and possibly more – consecutive wins and be in a position to win nine games (if they can win their bowl game). Nine wins, or even eight, considering how this season has played out would be amazing and an absolute credit to the coaches of this team. Kyle Whittingham kept things together when they were spiraling out of control and really showed why he is one of the best head coaches in the country.
Game Review - UCLA at Utah
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