It's official, this team has finally turned things around.
Maybe we could have said that last week after the beat-down the team put on Cal, but if there was any doubt left it was erased yesterday.
Utah had things clicking in every facet of the game. Offensively the team rolled up 453 total yards, the most they've had in a game all season. They scored 49 points, also a season-high. By the end of the game there was no question that this was the best the team has played in a very long time.
The Utes seemed to pick up where they left off last week; every position had things going from the very first kick. In the run game, John White certainly kept up his high level of play. White had 64 yards at the end of the first quarter and if he hadn't been pulled midway through the 3rd quarter he probably could have rushed for 200. As it stands he finished the game with 101 and 2 touchdowns and his 'magic number' streak continues.
Travis Wilson took another step forward. He acknowledged in the post-game press conference that the game is slowing down for him more and more each week and after his performance yesterday it's clear that that is truly the case. He is getting much better at making reads down the field and checking down to second and third options which is something he wasn't doing against UCLA and Oregon State. Wilson finished the game 17 of 21 passing for 171 yards 2 TD's and 1 INT.
The offensive line did their job all game long. Wilson had plenty of time to sit in the pocket and make his reads and throws which shows in his 81% completion percentage. The line also got great push in the run game for John White. His holes were huge and he rattled off nearly 100 yards in the first half thanks to their stellar blocking.
The wide receiver group was impressive thanks to a fantastic showing from all Ute quarterbacks. 14 different Utes caught passes – I'm not sure if that's a team record but if it's not then it's pretty darn close. The team totaled 248 receiving yards on a total of 22 completed passes. Kyle Whittingham specifically pointed out the blocking of the receivers in the post-game press conference saying their improved effort has made a big impact in the run game, which has obviously been visible on the field with back-to-back impress performances from John White and others.
Defensively the team was fantastic. Washington State didn't score a point until the final second (literally) of the game, something they should be really proud of considering they had to play without their top cornerback and a starting linebacker among other players.
Schematically the team employed a 3-3-5 or a "thirty-three" formation which put more defensive backs on the field to defend the pass. Though they rushed only 3 down linemen for the majority of the game they were still able to create a large amount of pressure from their starting three (Kruger, Kruger, Lotulelei). Jeff Tuel was rarely comfortable in the pocket and was constantly scrambling, throwing under pressure, or throwing on the run.
The defensive backfield was missing it's best player in Ryan Lacy but his absence wasn't felt at any point in the game. Reggie Topps had himself a fantastic game finishing with 7 tackles and 1 sack. His interception in the second quarter showed why he has earned himself more and more playing time over these past few weeks. The DB unit held Wazzu to just 50% passing and the defense as a whole sacked the Cougar QB's a total of 6 times.
Overall this was the game Ute fans would have drawn up as their best-case scenario before kickoff. The offense progressed, they put together and completed drives, and they scored a ton of points. The defense was aggressive, sound, and made plays at every position including sacks, forced fumbles, and interceptions. And once again the Ute special teams were stellar with pinned punts and another Reggie Dunn kick return for a score (a new school and NCAA record).
We all suffered through the first seven games and watched the team go 2-5, but after yesterday it's clear this is a completely different team. Sure the schedule has lightened up a bit, but that's only part of the turnaround.
With three games left against average to below-average competition Utah's chances at a bowl game are as good as any fan could hope after the way the season began.
They can't afford any missteps, but if Utah's recent play is any indicator of things to come I don't think fans have anything to worry about.
Game Review: Washington State at Utah
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