It was fun. And then it wasn't. Utah's overtime loss to Oregon State had all the makings of a monumental win for the program: a big comeback, tons of offense, a quarterback taking over, raucous crowd, and a solid Pac 12 opponent. What it didn't have was the finishing touch, as the game literally slipped through the fingers of the Utes when Sean Mannion's pass went through the hands of Michael Walker and settled into the arms of Brandin Cooks for the game-winning score. Devastating.
We'll start withe positives as we saw Travis Wilson take over the game. A light seemed to go on in the 3rd quarter where Wilson thought to himself, "F THIS! I'm going to win this game myself!" He almost did.
The new-found legs really have come from nowhere, and nothing we've ever seen in practice. The straight-line speed is phenomenal, and last night he showed the ability to make defenders miss, something he hadn't done yet. Travis Wislon now presents himself as a running threat, something teams will have to gameplan for and attempt to stop going forward.
Wilson's passing was solid considering the offensive line showed no interest in pass blocking in the first half, and he was left scrambling for his life for much of the game. Would like to see him target the tight ends more, but have to be happy with the way he is developing, interceptions aside.
Kelvin York. Out. James Poole. In. Whatever the situation is with York (injury, doghouse, performance), we're unaware of, but not playing in what has been billed by many as the Utes' game of the year, speaks loudly. Poole is now your starter, and earned it with his play. Some tough running where he was grinding out yards after contact for a total of 117 on the ground, to go along with 7 catches for 70 yards.
The biggest number of the night? Negative 3. The Utes turnover margin. Oregon State put the ball on the ground twice, but recovered both times. Michael Walker had the would-be game winning interception go right through his hands. Wilson's 3 interceptions resulted in 14 OSU points, with one of them being pick six on a terrible decision to throw into coverage.
It doesn't help Wilson when the offensive line continually gets abused by a defensive line that, in its first two games, looked shoddy. Granted, they did get better and better as the game went on, but the first quarter hole that they dug was largely in part to the poor line play. Get better next week, or BYU's front seven will eat them alive.
The defensive line was pretty bad. ZERO....and I mean ZERO pressure on Mannion. 1 sack for 5 yards? Are you kidding me? Utah may as well have played with 10 guys on the field when Nate Orchard was out there. When Tenny Palepoi is taking on 2 blockers on EVERY play, somebody has to be unblocked. Expect to see more Hunter Dimick next week against BYU. He plays the run better and we know the Cougars are going to run.
When the defensive line is bad, the secondary needs to be good. Unfortunately for the Utes, they were awful. Keith McGill and Davion Orphey were toyed with all night. Wykie Freeman couldn't stop anyone. Reggie Porter led the team in tackles, but that's because Mannion kept picking on him. No pass rush + poor coverage + good quarterback (Mannion) + elite receiver (Cooks) + good receiver (Mulaney) = tough day defensively (51 points).
So, where do we go from here? The schedule is brutal. If the games were all played today, Utah would likely be an underdog in each of the next 8 (yes, including Washington State) and double digit underdogs against Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA (Oregon line under 25?).
When you can't play defense of any kind in the Pac 12, you're going to give up points. How do you stop a UCLA team that just went into Nebraska and walloped a ranked Cornhuskers team in one of the hardest places to play in the country? Any chance of slowing down an Oregon squad that beat Tennessee by 45 points? Arizona State just knocked off Wisconsin. USC found its groove in the passing game yesterday against Boston College. If they continue to progress, the Trojan offense could be rolling by the time Utah comes to town. Washington State threw for 410 yesterday. Can the porous Utah secondary stop them? We haven't even mentioned top 5 ranked Stanford with Kevin Hogan. In other words, this could get ugly quickly if the coaches and players can't figure something out on the defensive side of the ball.
Now, let's not completely overreact. Will Utah give up 50+ points again this season to an opponent? Outside of Oregon, I doubt it. The defense won't be this bad every single week. There are still very winnable games on the schedule, most notably BYU (good matchup for Utah), Arizona (still not sure what they bring to the table yet and possible good matchup for Utes), and the season-enders against Wazzu and Colorado. These four are nearing must win scenarios.
Six now is reinforced as the magic number. It's not about competing for the Pac 12 South title at this point (UCLA and ASU are too good). It's about getting to a bowl game, showing progress, and getting those extra bowl practices as you build towards 2014. It's not a sprint. It's a steady race at a steady pace in building for the long-term betterment of the program. This isn't the spin machine. This is reality. You bust your butts to get to a bowl game, reward the players with that bowl experience, and better your program for the future. That is now the goal and direction for 2013.
Reality Sets In
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