Utah received great performances out of the defense and special teams, and a enough out of the offense to squeak by 8th ranked UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night. On the wildest day in college football in recent memory, the Utes pulled off the final upset of the day with a 30-28 win as UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbain's 50 yard field goal as time expired slipped past the upright by inches giving Utah their first signature Pac 12 road win.
Kendal Thompson replaced an ineffective Travis Wilson early in the game and Utah finally made the move to the power running game we'd been calling for all along. The mixture of Thompson and Booker kept the UCLA defense on their toes all night. Credit to the coaches for making great in-game adjustments and and continuing to do what was working. The Utes were able to run the ball well up the middle with Devontae Booker, and only Booker, as neither Bubba Poole nor Troy McCormick had a single touch in the game. It only took six months, but the coaches finally figured out that handing the ball to Booker over and over again is Utah's best offensive option. It's odd that they didn't get into that game-plan until Wilson exited the game and Thompson entered. Wilson wasn't given much of a chance as Booker, but it's very possible, if not probable, that Booker's effectiveness was in large part due to UCLA worrying about Thompson using his legs and having to prepare for that, something they didn't have to do with Wilson. Either way, it added up to a Utah offense that was efficient enough, especially on their final drive of the game. Once Thompson entered the game, Utah's offense out-coached and out-performed UCLA's defense.
The Utes were able to get defensive pressure all night as evidenced by their ridiculous 10 sacks. 10! Teams don't get 10 sacks in one game. Utah did, and generally by just rushing 4 to 5 guys. Nate Orchard. Hunter Dimick. You're men. 6.5 sacks between the two of them kept the UCLA passing game in check throughout the game. True freshman Lowell Lotulelei was great in run support often taking on double teams and still making plays. Jared Norris continued to build on his All Pac 12 campaign and Tevin Carter was stellar in about a quarter of action with his pick-6 before leaving the game with an injury. In came Andre Godfrey who looks like the next great Utah safety. Outside of the 90+ yard touchdown bomb he gave up, Godfrey played a tremendous game and should give Utah much more confidence in their safety depth when Carter is healed up. A very good game by Justin Thomas as well as he held UCLA receiver Thomas Duarte without a catch. The Utah defense came to play, again. If Utah is going to compete for a Pac 12 South title, the may need to do this each week as they out-coached and out-performed the UCLA offense.
Utah had to win the special teams battle. They generally do, but this was their toughest test. Didn't get anything out of the return game, but the plan to kick away from Ishmael Adams worked perfectly as he was unable to impact the game. Tom Hackett had arguably his best game averaging almost 50 yards per punt and consistently flipping the field with punts inside the 20 while Andy Phillips hit on all three field goals, including the game winner with under a minute to go. His second kick from 49 yards that slipped just inside the upright was arguably the play of the game and the biggest kick of his career. Utah outcoached and out-performed UCLA on special teams.
So, where do we go from here? Whittingham showed that he can win a Pac 12 road game against a high quality opponent. Another notch in the belt and that should give the fan base a lot more confidence in their coach a week after many turned on him. Now, can they avoid the letdowns we've seen from this team in the past after big wins (see Arizona following Stanford win and Wazzu following Michigan win) and keep the train rolling? The mark of a good team is one that is consistent from week to week. Is this a good team? An average team? What are they? I don't know what to expect out of them from week to week anymore. I don't know what to expect out of the Pac 12 or college football anymore. All I know is that it's a fun and exciting ride that, for Utah, resumes again in Corvallis in 11 days as we begin the Kendal Thompson era.
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