Utah's 24-14 win over Utah State on Friday night left the fans feeling unsatisfied and the training staff overworked.
It wasn't as pretty as many wanted, and nowhere near the blowout that many expected as a sloppy slugfest ensued at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah walked out of there with a solid win over the Aggies, but the injuries to Travis Wilson and Hunter Dimick combined with another lackluster performance by the offensive line has the Ute faithful concerned.
Wilson's departure doesn't appear to be serious at this time as he's only expected to miss next week's road tilt against Fresno State that appears to be Utah's easiest opponent of the season. Where it does hurt, though, is the development of the offense as Travis was playing at a higher level than we've seen at any point in his career. Wilson was really starting to take off as a quarterback, which was what Utah needed to be able to compete for a Pac 12 South title. Will he be more hesitant when he returns, trying to protect the non-throwing shoulder? Will his effectiveness as a runner be negated by play-calling, giving him less opportunities to run it?
Now we're back to the Kendal Thompson situation, and while it's certainly not a bad spot to be in, it's not ideal with how Wilson was playing and considering what he brings to the table that Thompson does not. Kendal was serviceable on Friday, and continued to show that he can dink and dunk, while escaping pressure and making plays with his legs. He did have one nice deep ball to Kenneth Scott, but Scott was well covered and it fell incomplete. Now, Thompson at the helm against Fresno State shouldn't be a problem, but I'm not sure that will be the case when Pac 12 plays hits in two weeks with Oregon. If Wilson isn't back, Utah is in trouble. Thompson is successful when he's a surprise addition to the game. When a team is preparing for Wilson, and then Thompson comes in, they're caught off guard and it makes the in-game adjustments difficult as the defensive gameplan often gets partially thrown out the window.
Now, if Wilson can't go against Oregon (or this injury draws out even longer), teams will have an entire week to gameplan for Thompson and the Utah offense, which will include 8 and 9 man boxes to stop the running game, while playing man press coverage near the line of scrimmage. Opposing defenses will live with Thompson airing it out a few times, knowing that the success rate probably wont be high. They'll keep as many people near the line of scrimmage, key on Thompson and Booker on theground, and try to be physical with Covey at the line. In other words, Utah becomes much more one dimensional and the threat of anything through the air almost
Are there other areas of concern after last night? Sure. The offensive line is severely lacking in terms of nastiness, which is a far cry from the overpowering lines we've comes to expect from Utah in the run game. Hiva Lutui took the place of Salesi Uhatafe at right guard last night and had a poor performance, often struggling to keep his man in front of him. Sam Tevi had a second straight bad game at left tackle and looks far from comfortable. It's a huge indictment as to the playable depth on the offensive line for the Utes if someone can look that lost and play that poorly and not be replaced. Jackson Barton must be far from ready if the Utes weren't willing to give him some first team reps last night. Did the defensive line get pushed around by Utah State's line for 3 quarters? Yes, but they also wore down the USU line by the 4th quarter and were able to tee off on Keeton a few times. We'd like to see a few more blitz packages at times, but the 3 and 4 man rush is helping produce a lot of interceptions at this point, and 1 pick is better than 2 sacks. Is the secondary a work in progress? Yes, but Hatfield's return likely sends Butler-Bird (who struggled) to the bench and gives the Utes more depth. Is the special teams game a huge disappointment? Yes, but Phillips and Hackett are too good to continue to struggle like this week in and week out. Is Jason Whittingham's presence on the field a liability right now. Yes, but this is a work in progress, and it's only week 2.
There were also plenty of positives to draw on as well with Wilson having a good game until he was injuried, Booker looking like an elite back, Covey continuing his unreal play, and the linebackers playing up to par.
You'd think the sky was falling up on the hill based on the fan reaction to last night, but Utah is 2 and 0, having knocked off two bowl bound teams and doing so in Utah fashion with a stout defense, strong running game, and by winning the turnover battle. Kyle Whittingham and his staff may not be satisfied, but they'll take the start, continue to work on cutting down on the mistakes, and prepare for their first road game of the season. As Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers would say 'R-E-L-A-X.'