Yikes. If you thought the Cal game was bad last year, this was worse. The Utes rolled into Tempe coming off of the high of a last second defeat of BYU looking to get off to a strong start in Pac 12 play. It didn't happen.
Defense. What the hell? Isn't this supposed to be one of the top defenses in the conference, if not the top overall group? The DTs were again the best group, thanks to Star, but no one else was efficient.
We've had this conversation year after year; Where are the defensive ends on the pass rush? Nate Fakahafua has been mostly absent since week 1. He was everyone's breakout guy after spring and fall, consistently dominating the Utah offensive line. The lack of pass rush from the ends has to fall on the coaches at some point. Are they not being taught how to get to the quarterback?
The linebackers look slow. Way too slow to compete with speedy Pac 12 teams like ASU, USC, UCLA, and Oregon. The sideline to sideline quickness isn't there, and the ability to make a proper read was lacking against Arizona State. On ASU's third touchdown, they threw a screen pass to the running back in the flat. Before the pass, two linebackers and a defensive end were all in pursuit of the quarterback, and no one slipped outside to take the running back who caught the ball with no one around him, picked up five yards before a defender started towards him and was already at full speed. Bad read by three players and guys not knowing their assignments or executing. If just one of those linebackers gets outside, they don't have to knock down the pass or make a tackle, but the running back has to make an immediate move, which negates his initial burst, and others can pursue to the ball before he's already heading downfield at full speed. This play summed up the entire day for Utah, and pointed out a big hole in their defensive personell.
Brian Blechen's return was negated by the absence of Eric Rowe, and Quade Chappuis struggled at the free safety spot. The lack of playable depth at safety is a big concern.
There's no depth at corner. Reggie Topps and Moe Lee struggled mightly while Ryan Lacy didn't have his best day. Wykie Freeman was decent, but ended up injured. These guys look like they're just running with receivers right now, instead of looking for the ball or trying to get a read on the QB.
Offensively, this team has an identity, and that's confusion. They're confused, they're undisicplined, and they're no rhythm. There hasn't been any rhythm all season. The offensive line can't block. That's problem number one. After making some strides against BYU, they reverted back to Utah State form and were dominated by Arizona State's defensive line. Why Utah ever takes a snap out of anything other than the shotfun formation is baffling. The lineman can't block long enough for Hays to take a decent drop where he's not under pressure. The short quick throws, which are the only ones they're throwing with any regularity right now, work best out of the gun. It gives Hays a better chance to complete his drop and step into the throw.
If Utah comes out against USC in anything but a shotgun formation, I may have a heart attack. Want to mix up the running game that is obviously not working? Try it out of the gun. You can even run it out of a pistol formation to get the ball in White's hands quicker so he can make a quicker read and find a hole. Anything but directly under center is better than what we're seeing now. If punts weren't being blocked with regularity, I'd suggest putting Hays 15 yards behind the center.
Where does this fall? Brian Johnson... kind of. It's become clear that Johnson as an offensive coordinator is a work in progress. He is going to improve, and I absolutely, 100% believe that Brian Johnson is a great long term fit at the offensive coordinator spot for Utah. Eventually, he'll be a good one, if not a great one. But we're talking about 2012 and to this point, Johnson hasn't been Pac 12 quality. The play calls are plain and predictable. The change up plays come at inopportune times and aren't getting the balls to the playmakers. An inability to make adjustments and deviate from the game plan is a huge concern.
What's going to happen the rest of the season at quarterback?. Is Hays the guy going forward? He wasn't terrible, but Hays didn't play very well on Saturday. It's apparent that the Utah coaches don't have confidence in Wilson throwing the ball consistently. The runs in the fourth quarter, and only two passes, made that pretty clear. If Wilson is the future, and your starting quarterback this year, it's time to throw him into the fire, especially in that situation. They can't start him against USC, and won't, unless they send him out for the first series just to catch USC off-guard. Hays will take the majority of the snaps against the Trojans. Utah will need to figure out at some point whether they want to try to salvage 2012 with Jon Hays, or build for the future with Travis Wilson.
Next is the offensive line. Something has to be done because this is the worst offensive line in the Pac 12. I've seen every single Pac 12 team at least twice, and Utah's is performing at a level lower than the rest of them, and that includes Colorado and Washington State. Whether it's a personnel change, scheme change, or a coaching change, a move has to be made. Dan Finn is responsible for having these guys ready, and they have not played at a reasonable level at any point this season. If the players aren't there, that's one thing, but there are multiple guys on this team that have Pac 12 level talent on the line. It's on Finn to get them working together as ONE unit and make them more productive. His job is dependent upon massive improvement over the final 8 games.
Where are the receivers? Devonte Christopher would rather bitch about the refs than fight to get open. No catches this week. 1 catch in the last two weeks. Dres is negated because Hays doesn't have the time to throw a deep ball. The tight ends are like a bunch of bullfighters out there when they block. Kenneth Scott is the only guy that's busting his ass out there, and he doesn't get any balls after the opening drive?
Now let's look at the schedule at what we're looking at for the remainder of 2012. The bye week is a good thing as the Utes head into the clash with USC next Thursday. The reality is that if the Utah team we've seen so far this season shows up, they won't beat the Trojans. The next week is at UCLA. The Bruins dropped one to Oregon State this weekend, but are similar to Arizona State in terms of team speed. The offense that UCLA runs is going to give the Utes fits, and the defensive brings pressure. Both will exploit Utah's weaknesses on both sides of the ball. At Oregon State should be closer than it looks on paper, but they're looking pretty good right now and that game is in Corvallis. Utah will likely be double digit underdogs in their next 3 games. If those games hold form, Utah will be 2 and 5. Utah can't be 2 and 5, can they?
Fortunately, the schedule softens up a bit in the latter part of the season. Home dates with Cal and Washington State are probable wins, while an overrated Arizona comes to Salt Lake. Colorado won this past weekend, but Utah should still be able to beat the Buffs in Boulder. At Washington is the best bet for an away victory in conference. Put it all together and that's only one remaining game that I'm overly confident that the Utes will win. They'll win more than that, but on paper, I can't say with certainty that Utah will beat anyone other than Colorado.
So, what do we have? A schedule that is brutal over the next three weeks. An offense and a defense that both need work. Coaches that are still growing. A lack of identity and confidence.
Welcome to the Pac 12. I don't think any of us figured it would be this difficult. It may be time to panic.
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