It looked like an early runaway, but turned into an ugly slugfest where the Utes rode a strong first quarter and some big kicks by Andy Phillips to a 27-12 victory over Oregon State on Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Travis Wilson was an unheralded hero in this one. Efficient with his 14 of 17 effort for 198 yards and a touchdown to go along with 57 on the ground and another score. Most important? No turnovers. Wilson didn't get many chances to take over the game, but was perfect when he needed to be. His TD pass to Handley was perfectly placed and the senior had multiple big 3rd down conversions, most notably the 3rd and 4 7 yard pickup to Kenneth Scott in the 3rd quarter from the Utah 11 when Oregon State seemed to be gaining momentum. The pass was perfect and Utah never looked back after that.
The complaints with the offensive play-calling are legitimate, but probably overstated again. Booker was good with a workman-like 121 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown, but wasn't used much catching the ball out of the backfield. Should Utah have thrown the ball a bit more? Probably, but the game plan was to pound it on the ground against a porous OSU run D, and limit the opportunity for turnovers. Just line it up and beat them with your superior size, speed, and athletes. It wasn't exactly pretty, but it worked and got Utah the win. The concern, though, comes in Kyle Whittingham's postgame comments for a second straight week, nothing that they should have thrown it more. Last week he said they should have run it more. That brings us to the big question: why can't Utah make these adjustments in-game? If Whittingham is aware of these mistakes immediately following the game, he must be aware of them during the game. Why not adjust? Why not deviate from the gameplan a bit to counter the adjustments that Oregon State made (stacking the box). Is that on Whittingham? On Roderick? Something needs to change over the final four weeks of the season.
Defensively, Utah had a decent game, but with injuries, nicks, and bruises, starting to mount, holes are starting to form. Oregon State just wasn't good enough to exploit them. Gionni Paul was a monster again, and Marcus Williams was a machine with great positioning and some big hits. Both had a few tackles that saved possible touchdowns. Jason Fanaika was dominant on the line in getting into the backfield and Reggie Porter was breaking up passes like Dres Anderson used to drop them. Oh, and Chase Hansen is a future defensive player. The sack was all we needed to see. The way he played that was absolutely freaking perfect and I nearly cried at the beauty of Hansen's performance on that play from snap to sack. Now to the defensive concerns. Jared Norris looked better than we thought he would coming off of the injury, and we mentioned how effective Jason Fanaika was, but the rest of the line wasn't able to make many plays. Filipo Mokofisi at the end was limited and Fitts doesn't look close to 100%. No Hunter Dimick and a poor performance by Pita Taumoepenu really highlighted Utah's inability to get pressure. The lack of defensive looks and blitz schemes kept things in front of them, but wasn't a typical Utah effort.
Overall, it was a safe effort for the Utes as they played well in the special teams department, didn't turn it over, limited to Oregon State to only four plays of 15 yards of more, and got the win. Survive and advance.