Utah started out the season on the right note on Thursday, August 29th, as they beat the Aggies from Utah State 30-26. While it wasn't a perfect game by any means, the Utes did what they needed to do, and won a game that was essentially a "must win" game for the program. Here are the position grades from the first week of action.
Quarterback: After average performances in his first seven starts as a Ute, Travis Wilson had his best game as Ute in the first game of 2013. Wilson had a very good stat line at the end of the game, but the biggest difference from 2012 to the first game of 2013, was that Wilson didn't make any mistakes. That's not to say that he played a perfect game though, as there were some passes that I'm sure he wishes he had back, that could've resulted in more completions and more big plays. Travis finished the night completing 17 of 28 passes, a completion percentage of 61%, for 302 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and nine rushing yards.
Running Backs: Against a very stout Utah State front seven, the stable of Utah running backs had just an okay performance on Thursday. Starting the game at running back, Kelvin York had a decent first half as he had some nice runs and was also good in pass protection, but he didn't see any action in the second half. We're not sure at this time if that is injury or performance related, but it's something to keep an eye on. James Poole and Karl Williams saw the rest of the snaps at running back, and they both did some things well, while struggling at times with other aspects of the game. Poole showed that he's a weapon on the edge, and is extremely tough to tackle one on one, but he struggled bad with pass protection as he just plain whiffed on a couple of blocking attempts. Williams did a great job of bursting through gaps in the line and gaining extra yards on second and sometimes third efforts, but that came back to bite him on one carry as he fumbled the ball away to Utah State while fighting for extra yards. Both Poole and Williams led the team with 12 carries, and respectively had 47 and 45 yards, while Williams had the lone touchdown for the group. In one half of action, York had 10 carries for 30 yards. As a group, they averaged 3.6 yard per carry.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: The already thin wide receiver group took a big hit on Thursday, as arguably their top wide receiver in Kenneth Scott was lost for the season due to an injury, but the group didn't let that alter their performance as both the TE's and WR's had their best performance as group in recent memory. Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga were the only tight ends to play on Thursday, and only Murphy had a catch, as he finished with two catches for 41 yards and a 30 yard touchdown. The stats aren't eye popping, due mostly to Utah State keying on the two of them, but where the TE's exceled was in the blocking game. Both Murphy and Tonga were noticeably better in run blocking on Thursday, which was much needed for the group. The wide receivers had the best day of all the position groups, as both Anthony Denham and Sean Fitzgerald had career days in the absence of Kenneth Scott. Denham led all receivers with 6 catches for 113 yards, while Fitzgerald also hauled in 5 catches for 79 yards. Dres Anderson was keyed on in the absence of Scott, but still had 2 catches for 59 yards, including the games' first touchdown, which was a 3 yard pass from Travis Wilson. The best part about the wide receivers performance was that there wasn't a single dropped pass, which was often brought up as a problem in fall camp. Overall, a great day for the TE's and WR's
Offensive Line: Against a good USU defensive line, the Utah offensive line was slightly disappointing, as they had very big expectations stemming from fall camp. While they only allowed three sacks of Travis Wilson, they failed to consistently get a good push in the run game, as the team as whole only averaged 3.4 yards per carry. They also struggled to get a push inside the 5 yard line, as they were consistently out pushed in the trenches inside the 5 yard line. Jeremiah Poutasi had an okay day, as he was a bit exposed against smaller, quicker defensive ends and gave up 1.5 sacks on the day. Instead of kicking his leg back more to get better position on the edge rusher, Poutasi routinely tried to knock them down with his strength. This worked against him and is something he must fix in the coming weeks. Siaosi Aiono had a good game, as he was only beat once by the very talented Kyler Fackrell, and also some very good moments in the run game.
Defensive Line: Nate Orchard was the highlight of the defensive line on Thursday, as he turned in an impressive performance gathering up 8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one sack. Orchard displayed quickness and power off the edge as he was routinely able to get pressure on Chuckie Keeton. Tenny Palepoi was the only other Ute to get a sack on Keeton, and Palepoi also was dominating presence up the middle, as Utah State was forced to run around him. Hunter Dimick also totaled up 5 tackles in his first game as a Ute, lining up at both defensive end and defensive tackle. Although the Utah State rushing total shows 173 yards, 85 of those came from Chuckie Keeton in scrambling situations. In designed run plays, Utah only gave up 88 yards rushing and 3.7 yards per carry.
Linebackers: After a bad performance against Utah State in 2012, the linebackers bounced back and had a solid game against the Aggies in 2013. Trevor Reilly started, and played most of the game at OLB and was phenomenal. He didn't have an overwhelming stat line, 8 tackles & 1 tackle for loss, but it was the little things that stuck out. Reilly continually played through the whistle and chased Chuckie Keeton all over the field at times. He was also a big presence in the run game, as he routinely cut off the Aggie RB's from getting to the outside and forcing them into traffic. Jacoby Hale was the other standout in this group, as he had 4 tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass break up. Hale showed off his speed on the edge on one of the most pivotal plays of the game, when he tackled Joe Hill behind the LOS on third and goal, forcing Utah State to kick a field goal. V.J. Fehoko and Jared Norris also had solid outings as they both totaled 6 and 7 tackles respectively. The LB's could've been better in pass coverage over the middle, but they showed substantial improvement from last year.
Defensive Backs: The re-tooled secondary struggled most of the night against Chuckie Keeton and the Aggie receivers, as Keeton only had 9 incompletions out of 40 pass attempts. Davion Orphey and Keith McGill got the start at corner, and they both good and bad moments. McGill was tested and beat early on in the game, but had a decent rest of the game as he didn't see much action thrown his way. Orphey had the best day of all the corners, as he had good coverage most of the day, and was sometimes just beat by simply perfect throws by Keeton. Justin Thomas didn't see a lot of action, but he did get beat deep on one play which was just bad coverage. Eric Rowe and Michael Walker played the whole game at both safety spots, but they were both routinely a step or two late on making plays in coverage. That could be attributed to the scheme of the defense, but could also be attributed to their awareness. Although they struggled at times in the pass game, they both provided good run support from the respective safety spots. Ultimately, Chuckie Keeton and the Aggie offense got the best of the secondary, as Utah State pass for 315 yards and two touchdowns.
Special Teams: Andy Phillips was the star on Thursday, as he hit 3 out 3 field goals in his first ever football game, and also successfully executed an onside kick that changed the momentum of the game. Combine that with no turnovers, no blocked kicks or punts, good snaps from Chase Dominguez and good punts from Tom Hackett, and the special teams had a great game.
Position Grades: Utah vs Utah State
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