Utah started its 2016 season on a positive note, with a 24-0 victory over Southern Utah. Although the Utes’ overall performance wasn’t as dominant as some fans might hope, there were still several positives for a team that is sure to be much sharper coming out in week two. Today, UteZone grades each position group on their performance Thursday night:
I thought I had fair expectations of what we were going to see from Troy last night, but even he exceeded my expectations. He certainly wasn’t perfect, but he was very good. The most important factor was that he did not turn the ball over, he made good decisions all night, which can be easy to not do against an opponent like SUU. He ended the night 20/35 for 272 yards and 2 TD’s, while also running for a net of 15 yards, he had some long runs that gained first downs, but lost 15 yards on sacks. Overall, a very good showing and can still get better.
Running Backs: D+
I feel bad giving this grade because of what Mccormick did, but Joe Williams did not come close to being the running back we saw during fall camp. He was hesitant hitting the hole, did not run physically, and just looked out of sorts. It was almost as if he was expecting there to be wide open lanes all night. McCormick was just the opposite. Despite his size, he was the hammer and not the nail on a majority of his runs. He ran hard all night, and showed his versatility in the slot. Armand Shyne got some run and looked like a good, physical back during the limited reps he had. It will be interesting to see what happens with the depth chart this next week, Don’t be surprised to see an OR in the starting spot.
Wide Receivers: B
Overall the group looks solid, 11 different receivers caught a pass and finished as a group with 23 catches for 298 yards. Tim Patrick finally had a coming out party, finishing with 5 catches for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns, he looked like a legitimate No. 1. We saw the deep ball as two passes went for 57 & 52 yards. Tyrone Smith & Raelon Singleton had put up decent numbers but each of them only hauled in half of their targets. I did not like the way we used Kyle Fulks, he has track speed, get him running into open space. Was also surprised we didn’t see more receivers rotate in last night.
Offensive Line: D
The only reason this wasn’t an F, was for their pass protection, which wasn’t perfect but was adequate enough to give Troy Williams the opportunity to put up solid numbers. There was no push in the run game, assignments were missed, tackles let defenders cross their face and were beat inside. There were far too many mental errors for a line that returns so many starts. JJ Dielman is a fine offensive lineman, but he has to snap the ball better. There are a lot of correctable mistakes - and better to get them corrected now than later on - but Coach Harding has his work cut out for him this week.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line got off to a subpar start by Utah standards, but did improve throughout the game. They need to contain the pocket better and I wanted to see at least a couple of more sacks. Pita Taumoepenu still needs to improve against the run. The expectations are high for this group and I thought they under-performed against an inferior opponent. However, if you take away one big run by Ty Rutledge, the Thunderbirds are held under 100 yards rushing.
Aside from a few bad angles, Barton and Tauteoli played better than we expected in their first career games with significant action. Barton was flying around and tallied up 11 tackles. We didn’t get to see them a lot in pass coverage, but SUU’s big 6’7” tight-end was held to only one reception for 12 yards.
Domo was out, so the group wasn’t at full strength. Porter struggled a bit on one third quarter series in particular, where he was victimized on a third and long play. However, no one on the Thunderbird roster caught more than one pass and the team was held to only 42 yards passing.
The safeties were the bright spot in the first game of the season, particularly Marcus Williams. He was solely responsible for creating two turnovers in critical plays. A forced fumble and recovery on a very long run and the second was an interception on a deep ball that really displayed his athletic ability. Despite the huge cast on his arm, Hansen also played well and came very close to getting a sack.
Kickoff Unit: A-
Hayes Hicken handled kickoff responsibilities for the Utes and performed admirably, getting touchbacks on three of his five kickoffs. The two kickoffs that were returned were covered well, and both came up short of the 20 yard line.
Punt Coverage Unit: A
Mitch Wishnowsky came in to replace the best punter in Utah football history and set a school single game punt average record in the process (55.5 yards per punt). The punt coverage team was phenomenal all night, allowing only two of Wishnowsky’s six punts to be returned for a grand total of 12 yards. Chase Dominguez and Justin Thomas both made solid stops in the open field. This unit looks like it will once again be a strength.
Punt Return Unit: B+
Boobie Hobbs had an exciting night, returning five punts for 55 yards on the night. There were a few where it appeared that he was a split second away from taking it all the way. Although Hobbs looks like he’s more than capable of being a suitable replacement for Britain Covey, it would be nice to see him fair catch more punts in traffic.
Kickoff Return Unit: Incomplete
It’s hard to grade a unit that didn’t have the opportunity to return a kickoff. Fans will ahve to wait until next week to see what Julian Blackmon and Terrell Burgess are capable of.
Field Goal Unit: C-
Andy Phillips was clearly in pain on the sideline, but managed to power through whatever is ailing him to an adequate day. He hit his first field goal attempt with ease. The miss was the result of a poor snapper/holder exchange. Long snapper Chase Dominguez had arguably the poorest snap of a nearly perfect career, and new holder Mitch Wishnowsky complicated the matter with a poor hold. The kick was doomed before Phillips started his motion. Phillips was perfect on his three extra point attempts.
Editor's note: Steve Bartle (offensive grades) and Joel Davidson (defensive grades) contributed to this story.