A: Played well above expectations
B: Played above expectations
C: Played to expectations
D: Played below expectations
F: Played well below expectations
Were the numbers great? No. Were the throws all great? No. The thing that mattered was Travis Wilson led Utah down the field in the final 2 minutes to a game winning touchdown completing tough passes and throwing in a nice 18 yard run to setup the game winning score. No picks and minimal mistakes. Put it all together, and this is Wilson's most impressive performance of the season. This is all Utah needs out of Wilson to keep winning.
Running Backs: C-
Not the Booker performance we've seen the last couple of weeks, but still efficient in going over 100 yards on 26 carries. He got better as the game went on and had a couple of big 4th quarter runs. Good to see Bubba Poole back out there, but he got those carries because of Booker's fumbles. Can't fumble if you want to play for Kyle, especially near the goal line. Must clean that up.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B
The blocking by the wide receivers was stellar, particularly Kenneth Scott. As a group, this was a big bounce-back game with only one drop. Not a ton of production out of the receivers, but they racked up clutch catch after clutch catch. Westlee Tonga reappeared for the first time in weeks with a monster game. 6 catches for 71 yards kept the chains moving and the defense off of the field.
Offensive Line: A-
It wasn't perfect, but it got the job done against a very good front 7. Wilson had more time to throw on a consistent basis and it made the passing game more proficient. The run game struggled a bit compared to recent weeks, often because of the line, but they were still solid. Hidden star on Saturday night? Hiva Lutui, who came in for an injured Siaosi Aiono at center and there was no drop-off. The running game really got going once Lutui came in and the snaps were clean. Should give the Utes a lot of confidence going forward should Aiono miss time.
Defensive Line: B+
The sack numbers weren't there, but Nate Orchard did close it out with his standard QB takedown. Little to no pressure in the first half, especially the first quarter and Kessler was picking them apart. Second half was a different story as the Utes were in the backfield a ton. Hunter Dimick had one sack and plenty of pressures while Nate was his usual self. The interior of the line was stuffing Buck Allen and the USC run game throughout. Lowell Lotulelei's hit on Kessler early on knocked him out for a play. Drilled him.
We'll see what happens with Jared Norris after suffering an injury on Saturday. That could be a big blow, but he was still very good on Saturday night, including one of the top plays in tackling Allen and a blocker at the same time to stop a sure-thing 60+ yard TD. Jason Fanaika played the game of his life. He was all over the the field making tackles and had the huge pick in the third quarter. Gionni Paul had his normal good game with 8 tackles. Buck Allen couldn't run much, and that's due largely in part to the linebackers and another great performance.
Kessler ate them alive early when the pass rush was non-existent. When the pass rush was there, the corners had a chance. Were they great? No. Did they do enough? Yes. They'll go as the pass-rush goes. Dominique Hatfield was toasted by Juju Smith in the third quarter on a deep ball. Fortunately for the Utes, Kessler overthrew the ball.
Like the corners, they're only going to be as good as the pass rush allows them to be. Kessler didn't take many shots downfield. When he went for JuJu Smith in the 3rd quarter, Blechen didn't have the speed to provide help. Eric Rowe was pretty good in his return to the safety spot and Marcus Williams played his best game once he got reps in the second half. They didn't give up any big plays down the field. That's the goal.
Special Teams: C
Tom Hackett had an off game by his standards with a couple of touchbacks ad the fake punt-esque thing almost had Kyle Whittingham murder him on the sidelines. For most punters though, that's a career game. Kaelin Clay had a big return for 53 yards and Phillips hit his only field goal attempt. The kick coverage on the USC return was a disaster though. As ugly as you'll see a team cover a kickoff.
Was the play calling perfect on offense? No, and the fans were really giving it to Christensen at the end of the first half. His pass, pass, run that started with 47 seconds in the half were mind boggling when USC had a timeout to use. That should have been pass, run, run to kill the clock. Fortunately, it didn't burn the Utes. A few other calls in the second half were odd, but Christensen made the right calls when it really mattered in the end, getting the Utes down the field for the winning touchdown. Sitake? The D had nothing to start the game and were lucky not to have given up a couple of touchdowns, but as his defenses tend to do, they adjust and get better as the game goes on. Big plays in forcing turnovers and getting stops. Whittingham had this team prepared (again) and they showed more grit than their opponent at the end of the game (again). At this point, he should be the Pac 12 coach of the year.
Position Grades: Utah vs USC
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