It was a bit of a struggle at times. Things weren't always pretty. Ute fans were on edge as we headed to the 4th quarter, but it was 2015 Utah football as usual as the Utes knocked off Arizona State 34-18 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
In a game dominated by Travis Wilson's poise, the Utah defense, special teams play (both good and bad), and punctuated by a big Devontae Booker 4th quarter, the Utes reached the 6 win mark and remained undefeated on the season. Maybe just as important, they now own a 2 game lead in the Pac 12 South race with 6 games to go, and there's no reason to think anyone is catching them.
Hats off to Utah's defense as they played a stellar game. They were done in by some poor special teams play from Utah's punt and kick coverage teams as ASU's two first half scoring drives turned into 10 points despite the Utes giving up exactly -3 yards on those two possessions. The pass rush collapsed the pocket on Bercovici all night long and forced a multitlude of sacks, while the ASU run game generated 15 yards on 28 carries. Just hand Gionni Paul the Pac 12 defensive player of the year award now.
Special teams? Don’t get down on them. Yes, the kick return for a TD was a result of some of the worst coverage you’ll see, and the punt return for a near TD was bad as well. I won’t even mention the disaster that was the kickoff return that gave Utah a safety. Tom Hackett, though? Amazing. 8 kicks for an average of almost 47 yards per with 5 inside the 20 will get the job done. He makes it look so easy in pinning opponents deep. It’s almost as if ASU knew that once Hackett rolled out there, he’d put them in a bad spot and then they’d have to go 90 yards against the Utah defense. That wasn’t going to happen, and the Sun Devils were fully aware. Andy Philliips knocked through both of his field goals with ease, the second one pretty much putting the game on ice. So while on the surface Utah’s special teams may have looked bad, Hackett and Phillips ended up being great equalizers….again.
Hello, Travis Wilson. It's official. You're here. We've been waiting. After what was his roughest game of the season last week, Wilson bounced back in a big-way, carrying the Utes through the first half when the running game couldn't get going. Hanging in the pocket throughout the game despite a ferocious pass rush, and converting big 3rd down throws and downfield throws like he'd been doing it for years. Wilson has quietly moved up the Pac 12 quarterback hierarchy and you could make the case that he's been as good as any conference QB this season.
Last night almost felt like Wilson pitched 7 innings of 4 hit baseball with 1 run given up, and then Devontae Booker came in for a 6 out save to put the Sun Devils away. The fact that Utah can now make things work on the ground AND through the air when they need to, along with this great defense, and sometimes-superb special teams, makes them as dangerous as any team in college football.
Yes, last night's game was close for 3 and a half quarters. Yes, that's the second straight game that the Utes were pushed heavily at home. Some might say that Utah is playing with fire and their going to get burned here shortly. I disagree. This is Utah football. Utah football means the Utes generally aren't going to stomp teams. Utah football means that the Utes, despite generally less talent, are going to out-work, out-prepare, and out-execute their opponents on a weekly basis.
I'm ready to say it; this team CAN win the national title. They're good enough to do so. They're well coached enough to do so. They're experienced enough to do so, and the schedule sets up perfectly for an undefeated regular season run with no teams currently ranked left on the docket.
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There's magic in the Salt Lake City air right now, and this team refuses to breath in anything else.